There aren't any known effective treatments for Graves' ophthalmopathy, said Dr. Jacob Warman, chief of endocrinology at the Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York City. Lubricant eye drops can help relieve some symptoms, but they don't alter the course of the disease.
Pentoxifylline is an anti-inflammatory medication and selenium acts as an antioxidant. The researchers suspected that both substances had properties that could help prevent some of the damage caused by Graves' eye disease.
The study authors recruited 159 people with mild Graves' orbitopathy, and randomly assigned them to receive two daily doses of either 100 micrograms of selenium, 600 milligrams of pentoxifylline or a placebo.
After six months, the researchers found that selenium treatment, but not pentoxifylline or the placebo, was associated with an improved quality of life. Selenium was also found to slow the progression of Graves' orbitopathy and reduce eye symptoms compared to the placebo and pentoxifylline.
Additionally, the researchers found that the benefits of selenium lasted for at least another six months after the study ended.
There were no adverse effects reported with selenium or placebo use. Several people on pentoxifylline reported nausea, bloating and abdominal discomfort.
Results of the study are published in the May 19 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
One caveat noted by Marcocci is that the population in the area where this study was conducted tends to be selenium-deficient. So, in an area where people get sufficient selenium, it's not clear if additional amounts of this trace element would still provide benefit. Selenium is found in plant sources, such as corn, wheat and soybean, according to the U.S. Office of Dietary Supplements. It's also found in some meats, such as chicken, beef and turkey.
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