Association between Serum Selenium Level and the Presence of Diabetes Mellitus: A Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies

Article information

Diabetes Metab J. 2019;43(4):447-460
Publication date (electronic) : 2019 January 02
doi :
1Department of Family Medicine, Hallym University College of Medicine, Chuncheon, Korea.
2Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Department of Internal Medicine, Hallym University College of Medicine, Chuncheon, Korea.
3Division of Internal Medicine, CM Hospital, Seoul, Korea.
4Department of Internal Medicine, Hanyang University College of Medicine, Seoul, Korea.
5Department of Internal Medicine, Graduate School, Hanyang University College of Medicine, Seoul, Korea.
Corresponding author: Shinje Moon. Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Department of Internal Medicine, Hallym University College of Medicine, 1 Singil-ro, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul 07441, Korea.
Corresponding author: Jae Myung Yu. Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Department of Internal Medicine, Hallym University College of Medicine, 1 Singil-ro, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul 07441, Korea.
Received 2018 July 10; Accepted 2018 October 28.



Epidemiological studies have suggested an association between selenium (Se) and diabetes mellitus (DM). However, different studies have reported conflicting results. Therefore, we performed a comprehensive meta-analysis to clarify the impact of Se on DM.


We searched the PubMed database for studies on the association between Se and DM from inception to June 2018.


Twenty articles evaluating 47,930 participants were included in the analysis. The meta-analysis found that high levels of Se were significantly associated with the presence of DM (pooled odds ratios [ORs], 1.88; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.44 to 2.45). However, significant heterogeneity was found (I2=82%). Subgroup analyses were performed based on the Se measurement methods used in each study. A significant association was found between high Se levels and the presence of DM in the studies that used blood (OR, 2.17; 95% CI, 1.60 to 2.93; I2=77%), diet (OR, 1.61; 95% CI, 1.10 to 2.36; I2=0%), and urine (OR, 1.49; 95% CI, 1.02 to 2.17; I2=0%) as samples to estimate Se levels, but not in studies on nails (OR, 1.24; 95% CI, 0.52 to 2.98; I2=91%). Because of significant heterogeneity in the studies with blood, we conducted a sensitivity analysis and tested the publication bias. The results were consistent after adjustment based on the sensitivity analysis as well as the trim and fill analysis for publication bias.


This meta-analysis demonstrates that high levels of Se are associated with the presence of DM. Further prospective and randomized controlled trials are warranted to elucidate the link better.


Selenium (Se) is an integral component of selenocysteine, a major structural amino-acid of selenoproteins [1]. In addition to its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, Se is also involved in the synthesis of DNA and thyroid hormone [1]. The cytoprotective properties of selenoproteins have garnered much interest leading to the discovery of selenoenzymes such as glutathione peroxidase (GPx), thioredoxin reductase (TrxR), and iodothyronine deiodinases (IDDs) [2]. GPx, which is one of the most well-studied selenoprotein family members, functions as a part of a defense mechanism to protect polyunsaturated fatty acids from the damaging effects of free radicals and inhibits the production of proinflammatory cytokines, reactive oxygen species, and reactive nitrogen species [3].

Due to the anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties of Se, numerous studies have assessed the relationship between Se levels and conditions commonly known to be associated with increased oxidative stress and inflammation such as cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes mellitus (DM), and cancer [456]. The association between Se and DM is one of the most vigorously investigated [78]. Studies have mainly been conducted based on the assumption that Se may be protective against DM [9]. Oxidative stress and inflammation have been reported to be involved in the onset and progression of diabetes [1011]. Consistent with these findings, supplementation of antioxidants including Se has been shown to delay the onset of DM [6]. Moreover, data from isolated rat adipocytes show that Se in the form of selenate can act as an insulin mimetic [1213]. Several cell and animal studies have suggested that Se plays a crucial role in controlling glucose homeostasis [14151617]. Moreover, epidemiological studies have evaluated the effects of Se on DM, but the conclusions have been conflicting [181920212223]. Some studies report that Se is positively associated with DM [181920] while others indicate a negative or no association [212223]. Although there has been a meta-analysis including five observational studies [7], many additional studies have been published since then [18192425]. Hence, an updated meta-analysis to review the recent data is warranted to understand better and clarify the role of Se in DM. Therefore, we performed an updated meta-analysis by a comprehensive investigation of the literature with conflicting conclusions.


Search strategy

The literature search was performed in accordance with the general principles recommended in the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) (Supplementary Table 1). Two independent investigators (S.M. and J.K.) searched the PubMed and Embase databases and selected articles using a combination of terms “diabetes mellitus” and “selenium.” Only articles published in English, before June 30, 2018, were included.

Study selection

The literature search yielded 2,085 potentially relevant articles, of which 1,734 were screened for further review after excluding duplicate studies. If studies had multiple reports, the latest or the complete article was enrolled. All articles were electronically downloaded and screened for inclusion using a two-step method. After evaluation of the titles and abstracts according to predefined criteria, 1,696 articles were excluded if: (1) the studies had a different topic of interest; (2) there was no information on Se and DM; or (3) the study was published as an abstract, expert opinion, conference article, or review. Subsequently, the full texts of 38 selected articles were reviewed by two independent investigators (S.M. and J.K.), and any disagreement was resolved by a third investigator (J.M.Y.). A total of 20 articles were finally selected for the meta-analysis (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1

Representation of the search strategy. DM, diabetes mellitus.

Assessment of bias risk

Three researchers independently assessed the methodological quality of the included articles using the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale (NOS) for case control studies [26]. Nine items were used to assess the quality, and all articles scored 6 to 8 (Supplementary Table 2). We concluded that the quality of these cross-sectional studies did not affect the quality of our meta-analysis.

Data extraction

The following variables were independently extracted by the two investigators based on the same rules: first author, publication year, country, number of study participants, mean age, number of men and women, characteristics of study participants including coexisting diseases, the mean or median concentration of Se, and number of DM.

Data analyses and statistical methods

We calculated the pooled odds ratio (OR) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for the highest and lowest quantiles of Se using the Mantel-Haenszel method. The Higgins' I2 statistic was used to test for heterogeneity. When I2 was ≤50%, the included studies were considered to have little heterogeneity, and a fixed-effects model was used. However, I2 >50% indicated heterogeneity and a random-effects model was used. Subgroup and sensitivity analyses were used to determine the cause of heterogeneity. The potential for publication bias was assessed by funnel plot analysis. To examine the strength of the outcome, we conducted a sensitivity analysis to estimate the effects of the remaining studies without the larger one. All statistical analyses were calculated using the statistical program R (R version 3.1.0, 2014,

Ethical statement

This article does not contain examinations performed on human participants. Then, ethical approval was not necessary.


Characteristics of selected studies

Twenty articles were included in the meta-analysis [1819202122232425272829303132333435363738], and their main characteristics are summarized in Table 1. In total, 47,930 participants were enrolled, and 6,347 of them had DM. Sample sizes of these studies ranged from 128 to 8,876 participants. In these studies, Se concentrations were measured in the blood (n=13), nails (n=3), and urine (n=2). Two studies estimated Se intake from a food diary survey.

Summary of the 20 observational studies included in the present meta-analysis

Se and DM

The meta-analysis found that high levels of Se were significantly associated with the presence of DM (OR, 1.88; 95% CI, 1.44 to 2.45). However, there was significant heterogeneity (I2=82%) (Fig. 2), and the funnel plot analysis showed significant publication bias (Supplementary Fig. 1). In the sensitivity analysis, the pooled OR changed little after omitting each study (Supplementary Fig. 2), and the heterogeneity ranged from 1.99 to 2.31, remaining statistically significant. A subgroup analysis based on the methods used for Se measurements, showed a significant association between high Se levels and DM in the studies on blood (OR, 2.17; 95% CI, 1.60 to 2.93; I2=77%), dietary intake (OR, 1.61; 95% CI, 1.10 to 2.36; I2=0%), and urine (OR, 1.49; 95% CI, 1.02 to 2.17; I2=0%). However, studies on Se in the nails failed to show a significant association with DM (OR, 1.24; 95% CI, 0.52 to 2.98; I2=91%). Because a significant heterogeneity was found in studies with blood, we conducted a sensitivity analysis and tested the publication bias. Sensitivity analysis found three outlier studies [343536]. After omitting these studies, the estimated pooled OR was 1.64 (95% CI, 1.34 to 2.02) with no significant heterogeneity (I2=40.3%). Since the funnel plot was asymmetric, publication bias was adjusted using the trim-and fill method by adding two estimated missing studies, which produced significant results (OR, 1.82; 95% CI, 1.31 to 2.53). Because of the heterogeneity in Se levels in each study, we conducted a subgroup analysis based on the mean or median blood Se levels, using 100 µg/L as the cut-off value. The pooled OR was 2.17 (95% CI, 1.37 to 3.44; I2=82%) in studies with mean Se <100 µg/L and 2.17 (95% CI, 1.40 to 3.39; I2=76%) in studies with mean Se ≥100 µg/L. A meta-regression analysis showed no significant effects of the mean Se levels (P=0.91) (Supplementary Fig. 3). The subgroup analysis using cut-off levels of Se of the highest group showed similar results (Table 2).

Fig. 2

Forest plots summarizing the odds ratio (OR) of the association between Se levels and the presence of diabetes mellitus. CI, confidence interval.

The OR of the association between Se levels and the presence of DM by cut-off levels of Se of the highest group


This meta-analysis of 20 observational studies showed that higher concentrations of Se were significantly associated with the presence of DM. Although significant heterogeneity was detected, the results did not change after adjustment by subgroup analysis, sensitivity analysis, and trim and fill analysis for publication bias.

DM is characterized by peripheral insulin resistance, with defects in insulin-secretion, which can be of varying degrees of severity. Although the mechanisms that underlie insulin resistance and diabetes are not fully understood, several studies point to the role of oxidative stress in the onset and progression of DM [10]. Therefore, Se which has been long touted for its antioxidant properties was believed to prevent the onset of DM by counteracting oxidative stress [9]. Although earlier studies have shown the insulin-mimetic and anti-diabetic effects of Se [1639], recent experimental studies have revealed an unexpected association between high Se intake and insulin resistance or DM [4041424344]. High Se exposure led to insulin resistance in rodents and pigs [45]. Although the mechanism underlying the diabetogenic effects of Se remains unclear, the high Se exposure might affect the expression of key regulators of glycolysis and gluconeogenesis. This action might potentially be mediated by the selenoprotein GPx-1 [45], as demonstrated by studies showing that overexpression of GPx-1 causes insulin resistance [46]. In skeletal muscles of pigs, high Se exposure led to an increase in GPx activity and expression of both forkhead box O1 and peroxisomal proliferator-activated receptor-γ coactivator 1α genes. It also led to a decrease in the expression of the gene for the glycolytic enzyme pyruvate kinase [44].

A number of human studies have been conducted to evaluate the effects of Se on DM, but the conclusions have been inconsistent. Although previous meta-analyses showed a modest association between Se and DM, they included only five observational studies [7]. Therefore, this meta-analysis is noteworthy since it demonstrates an association between Se and the presence of DM based on a number of observational studies in large populations, providing significant epidemiological evidence to support the results of previous experimental studies.

Although our findings suggest that there is a significant association between increased exposure to Se and DM, data from clinical trials of Se supplementation have not been conclusive. The first large randomized trial was the Nutritional Prevention of Cancer (NPC) Trial, in which 200 µg Se per day or a matched placebo was administered to evaluate whether it could reduce the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer. Stranges et al. [47] performed the secondary analyses with the NPC data and showed an increased risk of DM among those in the Se intervention group compared to those in the placebo group. In contrast to the NPC trial, the Se and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT), the largest prostate cancer prevention trial with 35,533 participants showed no significant increase in the risk for DM after supplementation with 200 µg/day of Se compared to placebo [48]. However, in a subgroup analysis with the elderly aged >63 years, a significantly increased risk for DM was reported [49]. Mao et al. [8] on the other hand, showed no association between Se supplementation (200 µg/day) and the risk for DM in their meta-analysis with four randomized controlled trial studies.

The considerable strengths of this study are that a number of observational studies with large populations were included, and predefined subgroup analyses could be performed. However, the present study has some limitations. First, since most of the included studies were cross-sectional studies, further prospective studies will be needed to clarify the relationship between Se and the risk for DM. Second, the differences in age, sex ratio and Se concentrations between different studies could induce a bias. In addition, the different methods used for measuring Se levels could also have contributed to the bias. Third, because we compared the highest quantile of Se to the lowest quantile in each study, there might be great heterogeneity among the cases and control groups between different studies.

In conclusion, this meta-analysis demonstrates that high levels of Se are associated with the presence of DM. Although the mechanism remains unclear, our findings could have implications for nutritional supplementation in clinical settings. Further prospective and randomized controlled trials are warranted to elucidate the link between Se and DM better.


CONFLICTS OF INTEREST: No potential conflict of interest relevant to this article was reported.


  • Conception or design: J.K., J.M.Y., S.M.

  • Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: J.K., J.M.Y., S.M.

  • Drafting the work or revising: J.K., S.M.

  • Final approval of the manuscript: J.K., H.S.C., M.K.C., Y.K.R., H.J.Y., J.H.P., D.S.K., J.M.Y., S.M.


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Supplementary materials related to this article can be found online at

Supplementary Table 1

PRISMA checklist


Supplementary Table 2

Quality assessment of included studies


Supplementary Fig. 1

Sensitivity analysis of the meta-analysis of studies comparing odds ratio (OR) of diabetes mellitus between the high and low selenium groups. CI, confidence interval.


Supplementary Fig. 2

Funnel plot for publication bias in studies comparing odds ratio of diabetes mellitus between the high and low selenium groups.


Supplementary Fig. 3

Meta-regression analysis based on the mean selenium (Se) level for each study.


Article information Continued

Fig. 1

Representation of the search strategy. DM, diabetes mellitus.

Fig. 2

Forest plots summarizing the odds ratio (OR) of the association between Se levels and the presence of diabetes mellitus. CI, confidence interval.

Table 1

Summary of the 20 observational studies included in the present meta-analysis

Study Location Design Study population No. of subjects No. of DM (%) Age, yr, mean or median Selenium concentration, mean or median Selenium measurement Selenium classification
Yuan et al. (2018) [24] China Cross-sectional Population based 2,078 1,039 (50) Controls: 62.8 Controls: 61.7 Blood, μg/L Quartile
1:1 match Cases: 62.9 Cases: 64.3
Kohler et al. (2018) [18] USA Cross-sectional Population based 1,727 172 (10) 63.1 139.8 Blood, μg/L Tertile
Li et al. (2017) [19] China Cross-sectional Population based 551 122 (22.1) 66.4 16.4 Blood, μg/L Tertile
Galan-Chilet et al. (2017) [25] Spain Cross-sectional Population based 1,,452 120 49 84.2 Blood, μg/L Tertile
Hansen et al. (2017) [22] Norway Cross-sectional Population based 883 128 Controls: 61.4 Controls: 101.4a Blood, μg/L Quartile
Cases: 65.2 Cases: 101.2a
Zhang et al. (2017) [27] China Cross-sectional Population based 1,837 510 Controls: 55.2 Controls: 200 Blood, μg/L Quartile
Cases: 57.7 Cases: 210
Skalnaya et al. (2017) [28] Russia Cross-sectional Population based 128 64 (50) Controls: 56.7 Controls: 110.2 Blood, μg/L Median
Menopausal women 1:1 match Cases: 55.8 Cases: 126.8
Lu et al. (2016) [29] Taiwan Cross-sectional Hospital, 40 yr or older 847 303 (35.8) 63.9 86.7a Blood, μg/L Quartile
1:2 match
Alehagen et al. (2016) [30] Sweden Cross-sectional Population based 668 146 NA 67.1 Blood, μg/L Quartile
70–80 yr
Gao et al. (2014) [23] Sweden Cohort Population based 1,539 53 (for 10 yr) 49.7 75.6 Blood, μg/L Tertile
Stranges et al. (2011) [31] Italy Cross-sectional Population based 445 13 50.9 77.5 Blood, μg/L Tertile
Laclaustra et al. (2009) [20] USA Cross-sectional Population based 917 121 54.2 137.1 Blood, μg/L Quartile
Bleys et al. (2007) [32] USA Cross-sectional Population based 8,876 1,379 Controls: 42.8 Controls: 125.7 Blood, μg/L Quintile
Cases: 58.3 Cases: 126.5
Su et al. (2016) [33] China Cross-sectional Population based 1,856 163 74 0.461a Nail, μg/g Quartile
65 yr or older
Vinceti et al. (2015) [34] Italy Cross-sectional Population based 621 226 Controls: 50.9 0.57 Nail, μg/g Quartile
Women, 35–70 yr Cases: 51.2
Park et al. (2012) [21] USA Cohort Population based Men: 3,535 780 Men: 59.6 Men: 0.84 Nail, μg/g Quintile
Nurses, 30–55 yr Women: 3,630 Women: 52.6 Women: 0.77
Health professional, 40–75 yr
Liu et al. (2016) [35] China Cross-sectional The coke oven workers 1,493 102 Controls: 41.8 Controls: 10 Urine, μg/L Tertile
Cases: 47 Cases: 11.5
Feng et al. (2015) [36] China Cross-sectional Population based 2,242 218 53 7.42a Urine, μg/L Quartile
Wei et al. (2015) [37] China Cross-sectional Population based 5,423 525 Controls: 52.9 Controls: 43.2 Intake, μg/day Quartile
40 yr or older Cases: 54.7 Cases: 46.8
Stranges et al. (2010) [39] Italy Cohort Population based 7,182 253 Controls: 47.1 Controls: 56.8 Intake, μg/day Quintile
Healthy women, 34–70 yr Cases: 51.2 Cases: 60.9

QuintileDM, diabetes mellitus; NA, not available.


Table 2

The OR of the association between Se levels and the presence of DM by cut-off levels of Se of the highest group

Cut-off value of Se level of highest group No. of studies OR (95% CI) Heterogeneity (I2), %
<100 μg/L 6 1.90 (1.23–2.93) 74
100–120 μg/L 2 4.06 (2.67–6.18) 0
>120 μg/L 4 2.46 (1.48–4.10) 79

OR, odds ratio; Se, selenium; DM, diabetes mellitus; CI, confidence interval.