Selenium is an essential trace mineral that acts as an
—a substance that protects the body's cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are normal by-products of metabolism, but they can cause cell damage.
Selenium's functions include:
Acting as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidaseStimulating immune functionEnsuring proper function of the thyroid glandAiding cell growth
Recommended Dietary Allowance
Adequate Intake (AI) = 15
AI = 15
AI = 20
AI = 20
|14 years and older||55||55|
Symptoms of selenium deficiency may include:
Enlarged heartHeart diseaseBones and joints diseaseAltered thyroid functionIntellectual disabilityWeak immune system
Groups of people who may be at risk for selenium deficiency include:
People living in areas where the soil is very low in selenium, such as parts of China and Russia
People with gastrointestinal disorders, such as
Crohn's disease, that may decrease absorption of selenium
People receiving total parenteral nutrition (TPN); however these people now routinely receive selenium supplementation
The government has set the tolerable upper intake level (UL) for selenium at 400 mcg for people ≥ 14 years of age. Selenium toxicity is rare in the United States. However, when it occurs, symptoms may include:
Garlicky breathHair lossGeneral weaknessStomach upsetIrritabilityWhite, blotchy nailsMild nerve damage
Major food sources of selenium include: Brazil nuts—from selenium-rich soilShrimpCrab meatTunaHalibutNoodles, enrichedRice, brownChicken, pork, and beefWhole wheat bread
Some studies that have examined selenium intakes and blood selenium levels effect on cancer. Some of these studies have suggested that people with greater intakes of selenium are less likely to develop
or to die from cancer if they already have it. However, other studies have not found selenium to be protective for cancers.
If selenium affects cancer, it is thought to be due to its action as an antioxidant. Also, it may be that selenium helps stimulate the immune system, making it better able to fight cancer.
In population studies, people with low intakes of selenium have been found to have a greater incidence of heart disease, while those with higher selenium intakes have lower risks for heart disease.
Again, selenium's action as an antioxidant is likely the means by which it protects the heart. Selenium and other antioxidants help limit the oxidation of LDL ("bad") cholesterol. This oxidation leads to plaque build-up on artery walls, and subsequently, heart disease.
Free radicals can promote inflammation and destroy cartilage and collagen in joints, contributing to the pain of
As an antioxidant, selenium can help limit free radical production and therefore ease the pain of arthritis.
For a simple lunch, open a can of tuna and make a sandwich on whole wheat bread.Choose fish or seafood for dinner 2-3 times per week.Choose lean meats for entrees.Select a breakfast cereal that is rich in nutrients. Check the nutrition facts label on the side.Choose brown rice over white, and whole wheat or rye bread over white.
Dietary supplement fact sheet: selenium. Office of Dietary Supplements. National Institutes of Health. National Institutes of Health website. Available at:
http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/selenium.asp. Updated July 2, 2013. Accessed October 8, 2014.
Selenium. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/biomedical-libraries/natural-alternative-treatments. Updated September 18, 2014. Accessed October 9, 2014.
Selenium. Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute website. Available at: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/minerals/selenium/index.html. Updated January 22, 2009. Accessed October 9, 2014.
1/13/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Lippman SM, Klein EA, Goodman PJ, et al. Effect of selenium and vitamin E on risk of prostate cancer and other cancers: the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT).
2009;301:39-51. Epub 2008 Dec 9.
Last reviewed September 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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