Selenium and fatty acids in health

My research interests lie in identifying the role of micronutrients and fatty acids in maintaining health and preventing disease. This work involves quantifying micronutrients within different food products and in developing tools to assess micronutrient bioavailability.

My current work is investigating how likely changes in the make-up of feedstuffs within the aquaculture and dairy industries (driven by issues of sustainability) impact on product nutritional quality and the likely impact on human health for the consumer.

This research will help the food industry to make healthier products and provide information on how micronutrients act to promote health.

Research focus

FHIS Science Bytes - Dr. Alan Sneddon video 

Selenium is an essential dietary micronutrient required for maintaining optimal health in both animals and humans. This is likely due to its presence in selenoproteins, many of which are enzymes that protect against oxidative damage in the body. Oxidative stress is a normal part of cellular metabolism but increased levels are observed with ageing and in chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Since dietary selenium intakes in Scotland and the UK have declined to a level now considered marginal for optimal health this may be associated with lowered protection from oxidant damage and increased risk of chronic disease.

Dietary fat also greatly influences health with excessive fat intakes leading to obesity and increased risk of associated diseases including type-2 diabetes, cancer and CVD. However, certain other classes of fats such as the polyunsaturated omega-3 as well as conjugated linoleic acid may counteract the effects of the ‘bad’ fats and may be associated with decreased risk of disease.

We are interested in understanding the role of dietary fatty acids and micronutrients like selenium in maintaining optimum health. In addition, we hope to gain insight into how these nutrients interact as there is a close interplay between both fatty acid metabolism and selenium metabolism. We also have an interest in exploring methods to maximise micronutrient and beneficial fatty acid levels in food products to boost intakes to promote health.

Using a model of heart disease we have recently shown that consuming a high fat diet lacking selenium increases heart disease more compared to consumption of the same diet containing selenium. Furthermore, these effects correlated with the levels of ‘bad’ fatty acids within the bloodstream. Additionally, other studies have shown that selenium has an anti-inflammatory effect both within immune cells and endothelial cells (which line the inside of blood vessels) and that it reduces the interaction between these cell types, which is an important early step in heart disease development.

Research Team

Shabina Bashir - Research assistant

  • RESAS (Scottish Government), Healthy, Safe Diets.
  • Wellcome Trust Project Grant, Interaction of selenium, fatty acids and a polymorphism in GPX4 in modulating vascular function.  
  • British Heart Foundation, Atherosclerosis: the effect of selenium speciation and dose.
  • Fraserburgh Moonlight Prowl, (PhD studentship) Omega-3 endocannabinoids: novel anticancer lipid ethanolamides.
  • De Roos, B., Binacchi, F., Whybrow, S. & Sneddon, AA. (in press). 'Differences in expenditure and amounts of fresh foods, fruits & vegetables and fish purchased in urban and rural Scotland'. Public Health Nutrition.
    [Online] AURA: s1_ln23866724_376178619_1939656818Hwf1662715993IdV_214260525...
  • Zhang, X., McGeoch, SC., Johnstone, AM., Holtrop, G., Sneddon, AA., Macrury, SM., Megson, IL., Pearson, DWM., Abraham, P., De Roos, B., Lobley, GE. & O'Kennedy, N. (2014). 'Platelet-derived microparticle count and surface molecule expression differ between subjects with and without type 2 diabetes, independently of obesity status'. Journal of Thrombosis and Thrombolysis, vol 37, no. 4, pp. 455-463.
    [Online] DOI: 10.1007/s11239-013-1000-2
  • Crosley, LK., Bashir, S., Nicol, F., Arthur, JR., Hesketh, JE. & Sneddon, AA. (2013). 'The single-nucleotide polymorphism (GPX4c718t) in the glutathione peroxidase 4 gene influences endothelial cell function: Interaction with selenium and fatty acids'. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, vol 57, no. 12, pp. 2185-2194.
    [Online] DOI: 10.1002/mnfr.201300216
    [Online] AURA: mnfr2043.pdf
  • Sneddon, AA. (2012). 'Selenium and vascular health'. Pure and Applied Chemistry, vol 84, no. 2, pp. 239-248.
    [Online] DOI: 10.1351/PAC-CON-11-09-01
    [Online] AURA: PAC_CON_11_09_01_5_2_.pdf
  • Song, H-J, Sneddon, AA., Heys, SD. & Wahle, KWJ. (2012). 'Regulation of fatty acid synthase (FAS) and apoptosis in estrogen-receptor positive and negative breast cancer cells by conjugated linoleic acids'. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids, vol 87, no. 6, pp. 197-203.
    [Online] DOI: 10.1016/j.plefa.2012.09.002
  • Gautrey, H., Nicol, F., Sneddon, AA., Hall, J. & Hesketh, J. (2011). 'A T/C polymorphism in the GPX4 3'UTR affects the selenoprotein expression pattern and cell viability in transfected Caco-2 cells'. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, vol 1810, no. 6, pp. 584-591.
    [Online] DOI: 10.1016/j.bbagen.2011.03.016



Additional activities

Research briefs for the Knowledge Scotland web site

Additional Responsibilities

  • Editorial Advisor Clinical Science
  • Member of Editorial Board for: Preventive Nutrition and Food Science

Reports for the Food and Health Innovation Service

  • Selenium and Health pdf
  • Fish as a source of nutrients pdf