Researchers: Selenium's Value is in the Sperm, Not the Blood

The trace element selenium appears to reinforce sperm quality and thus maintain a stallion's fertility. When selenium is lacking, motility drops, sperm membranes break down, and the sperm's acrosome (which covers the head) can deform. But according to a new study by German scientists, feeding your stallion more selenium won’t necessarily improve his sperm quality. The problem, they say, is not how much selenium is in the horse's system, but how much gets into the sperm themselves.

Researchers studied a group of stallions all supplemented with the same amount of selenium (1.3 mg daily) and determined that the concentration of selenium in the horses' blood had nothing to do with how much selenium was in the sperm, according to Holger Bertelsmann, PhD, research scientist at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie in Berlin. Horses with high levels of selenium in the blood could have very low levels in the sperm, and even horses (from previous studies) with moderate selenium deficiencies could have high levels in the sperm, he said.

A horse’s sperm apparently has preferred status for selenium supply within the horse’s system, he reported. And stallions with low levels of selenium in the sperm most likely suffer from a malfunction of the biological mechanism that feeds the sperm with the element, and not a lack of intake.

But that's no reason to hold off on the selenium, according to Bertelsmann. Selenium also helps fight certain infections and supports cardiovascular function. "Low dietary selenium supply can still indirectly lead to poor reproductive performance in stallions," he said, adding that the recommended daily intake is about 0.5 mg for an 1100-pound horse.

Selenium content in hay and oats is dependent on its content in the soil, and so it varies from one region to another, Bertelsmann said. A selenium-rich feed will ensure the horse receives adequate amounts of the element.

However, it is possible to have too much selenium, as more than triple the recommended amount could lead to selenium poisoning, he said.

According to their study, a blood analysis would not be a reliable method of testing selenium concentration for semen quality. Even selenium concentrations in seminal plasma or semen do not indicate how much selenium gets into the sperm, Bertelsmann said. If breeders want to have their stallions tested for adequate selenium status for reproduction, they must have the actual spermatozoa analyzed and not the whole ejaculate.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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