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Magnesium, Selenium and Zinc

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There can be no doubt that the field of nutrition has come of age. More than 80 years have passed since the first vitamin was discovered. Today the speed at which laboratory and clinical findings are released is so accelerated that an individual's understanding of nutrition is seriously out-dated if he or she is not abreast of the findings published within even the past year. This special Nutrition Science Update takes the guesswork out of keeping up-to-date on important nutritional breakthroughs by presenting the following summations of all the most important research released over the past year.


Daily supplements of selenium (200 mcg. per day for several years) greatly reduces the risk of cancer, compared to people taking a placebo. In fact, new research shows that the risk of prostate cancer is lowered by 63%, colon/rectum cancer risk is lowered by 58%, and lung cancer is lowered by 45%. Furthermore, deaths from cancer were slashed in half in the selenium supplemented group. (Clark, L.C., et al., Journal of the American Medical Association, 1996;276(24):1957-1963.)

According to a study of 11 healthy men living in a metabolic research unit for 120 days, "persons with low selenium status might experience relatively depressed moods and [this study's results] support the idea that selenium plays a special role in the brain." (Hawkes, W.C., et al., Biological Psychiatry, 1996;39:121-128.)


A recent study involving 100 men and women with colds provided half of the group with lemon-flavored zinc lozenges containing 13.3 mg. of zinc (in the form zinc gluconate) to dissolve in their mouths every two waking hours for the duration of their cold symptoms. The other half of the group unknowingly received a supply of dummy lozenges developed to have a medicinal taste similar to the zinc lozenges.

The zinc lozenge takers reported fewer days suffering from cold symptoms. In fact, while the average cold sufferer reports symptoms lasting for 7.6 days, zinc lozenge users stopped experiencing cold symptoms after just 4.4 days. (Mossad, S., et al., Annals of Internal Medicine, July 15, 1996;125(2):81-88.)

Zinc may guard against a common vision problem that develops in older people, say researchers from the Departments of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of Wisconsin. When comparing the zinc intake of 1,968 older people, those with the highest intake (compared to those with the lowest intake) had a lower risk of macular degeneration, which is a common cause of blindness in the elderly (Mares-Perlman, J.A., Archives of Ophthalmology, 1996;114:991-997).


Magnesium appears to prevent heart attacks, according to research that compared levels of magnesium in the drinking water of 854 men who died of heart attacks to the drinking water of 989 men who died from other causes. The risk of dying from a heart attack went down as the amount of magnesium in the drinking water went up, suggesting a protective role of magnesium against heart disease. (Rubenowitz, E., et al., American Journal of Epidemiology, 1996;143:456-462.)

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