Scientists find that trace element selenium could help improve recovery rate among COVID-19 patients

The study led by the University of Surrey found a link between the levels of selenium and the cure or death rate among people infected with the novel coronavirus in China

Much has been discussed about boosting the body's immunity to fight the lethal COVID-19 infection. While some submissions have been educated guesses, a new study has found that the intake of the element selenium may indeed have an outcome on the cure and death rates among patients with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infection.

An international team of scientists led by the University of Surrey has found a link between the level of selenium in the bodies of people affected with the disease in China and the rate of cure or death among them.

"The correlation we have identified is compelling, particularly given previous research on selenium and infectious diseases," said Ramy Saad, co-author of the paper, in a statement.

The role of selenium in immunity

Selenium is a vital trace mineral or element that is availed only through the consumption of food rich in it. In small but appropriate amounts, it plays an important role in the immune response of the body. This is done so through the production of antioxidant enzymes that it aids the body in making.

Representational Picture Wikimedia Commons

It is found in foods such as cereals, meat, and fish, among others. In patients affected with the deadly viral infection, HIV, the mineral has been found to have an effect on its progression into a deadlier disease, AIDS, and the mortality associated with it.

Why choose China for the study?

For starters, the pandemic originated in China. However, the reason underlying the study was a unique dichotomy among the country's population. It has populations that have the highest and lowest levels of the element in the world. This is due to geographical variations found in the soil that affects the amount of selenium that gets absorbed in the food chain.

Illustrating further, Margaret Rayman, lead author of the study, said: "Given the history of viral infections associated with selenium deficiency, we wondered whether the appearance of COVID-19 in China could possibly be linked to the belt of selenium deficiency that runs from the north-east to the south-west of the country."

A convincing link

After analyzing data from municipalities and provinces with over 200 cases and with cities over 40 cases, the researchers made an interesting observation. It was found that in areas where levels of selenium were high among people, the likeliness of making a recovery was higher.

The city of Enshi in the virus-hit Hubei province was an example of such a link. The city which had the highest consumption of selenium in China also had a higher cure rate (i.e) three times higher than the average for all the other cities in the province.

SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 Wikimedia Commons

In comparison, Heilongjiang province, where the intake of selenium was near the bottom of the global list, the death rate from the disease was nearly as high as the mean of all the provinces outside the province of Hubei. Through the data, the scientists were convinced that the cure rate from the infection was connected to the selenium levels through the measurement of the elements' level in hair across 17 cities outside the pandemic-stricken province of Hubei.

Need to study the link further

"There is a significant link between selenium status and COVID-19 cure rate, however it is important not to overstate this finding," said Kate Bennett, co-author of the study. She nevertheless added: "We have not been able to work with individual level data and have not been able to take account of other possible factors such as age and underlying disease.

Emphasising the need to investigate the finding further, Saad concluded: "As such, a careful and thorough assessment of the role selenium may play in COVID-19 is certainly justified and may help to guide ongoing public-health decisions."

This article was first published on May 3, 2020
Related topics : Coronavirus