Research at the University of Adelaide identified a link between a natural antioxidant called 'selenium' found in high-protein foods, and healthy ovarian follicles responsible for egg production in women.
PHD student Melanie Ceko, who made the discovery in a joint
research project, said selenium has been known to have many health benefits,
but it has never been linked to women's fertility.
"We've known for some time that selenium is
important to men's fertility, but until now no-one has researched how this
element could be involved in healthy reproduction in women," Ceko said.
Initial research conducted at the Australian Synchrotron
pinpointed the exact place selenium is located in the ovary, then turned their
attention to the selenoprotein known as GPX1.
"It was there that we noticed the element selenium
plays an important role. GPX1 is quite heavily influenced by your dietary
intake of selenium so if you weren't eating enough selenium in your food it's
quite likely that your GPX1 levels would drop down," Ceko said.
"It could mean that follicle which would otherwise
go on to release an egg is missing out on that essential protein formation that
it needs there."
While selenium deficiency is not usually a problem in
Western diets people who avoid certain food groups or eat food mainly grown on
selenium-deficient soils are most at risk.
Ceko warns however that further research is needed to
better understand how selenium levels can be optimised for women trying to
"Too much selenium can also be toxic, so it isn't
just a case of taking multiple supplements," she said.
Written by Cathryn Kempe