Selenium is a trace mineral found naturally in the soil that also appears in certain foods and there are even small amounts in water.
Selenium is an extremely vital mineral for the human body as it increases immunity, takes part in antioxidant activity that defends against free radical damage and inflammation, and plays a key role in maintaining a healthy metabolism.
According to studies, consuming plenty of naturally occurring selenium has positive antiviral effects, is essential for successful male and female fertility and reproduction, and also reduces the risk of cancer, autoimmune and thyroid diseases. (1)
How Selenium Benefits Your Body
Selenium is able to play such a protective role in the body because it increases antioxidant capabilities and the quality of blood flow, therefore enhancing the body’s resistance against diseases and stress. Selenium is often praised for its role in antioxidant activity which lowers free radical damage and inflammation.
This means that selenium benefits your body by helping to prevent common forms of cancer, to fight off viruses, defend against heart disease, and to slow down symptoms correlated with other serious conditions like asthma.
Natural food sources that are high in selenium include Brazil nuts, eggs, liver, tuna, cod, and sunflower seeds, in addition to poultry and certain types of meat.
Whole foods are the best sources of selenium, especially when these foods are handled and prepared in a delicate way, since selenium may be destroyed during processing and very high heat cooking methods.
Among healthy people in the U.S., a selenium deficiency is believed to be uncommon. However people with certain health conditions such as HIV, Crohn’s disease, and other disorders that impair nutrient absorption are associated with having low selenium levels that can lead to a selenium deficiency.
Top 8 Ways Selenium Benefits You
Here are just a few ways that selenium benefits your body:
1. Acts as an Antioxidant & Defends Against Oxidative Stress
Selenium benefits include the ability to fight the aging process and help the immune system by reducing free radical damage. Selenium has a synergistic effect with other antioxidants like Vitamin E, enabling the body to fight oxidative stress and to defend against cancers like prostate and colon cancer.
Selenium is an essential component of glutathione peroxidase, which is an important enzyme for processes that protect lipids (fats) in cell membranes. Selenium is needed to fight oxidative degradation of cells and to protect against mutation and DNA damage that can cause disease. (5)
2. Helps Defend Against Cancer
Selenium is especially helpful if you have a weak immune system or a history of cancer in your family. Interventions using selenium treatments at high doses have shown that selenium benefits anti-cancer abilities within the body.
According to studies, selenium is effective at reducing the risk of cancer incidence, cancer caused mortality, and severity of cancers specifically in the liver, prostate, colo-rectal and lungs.
Selenium acts like a little mechanic within the body. It goes into the nucleus of cell where the DNA and genome are stored and finds damage. It attaches to protective antioxidants like glutathione and then works to reduce and repair damage done to DNA, which left uncontrolled could lead to cancerous cell mutation and tumor growth.
It does this because selenium has a special job of activating selenoproteins, acting in an enzymic role that helps antioxidants to do their job best. There is evidence that selenium benefits include not only being able cut cancer risk but also help to slow down existing cancer progression and tumor growth. (6)
Studies have shown that a high dose of 200 mg. a day of selenium can be effective in protecting DNA which can reduce the risk for cell mutation and cancer development.
And other studies show that in areas of the world where the soil is lowest in selenium, cancer risk is increased when compared to areas that have higher levels of selenium naturally available.
3. Boosts Immunity
According to studies, selenium is needed for the proper functioning of the immune system, and can also be a key nutrient in counteracting the development of viruses including HIV. In patients who already contracted HIV, selenium has been shown to also be useful in slowing down the progression of the disease into AIDS. (7)
4. Improves Blood Flow & Lowers Chance of Heart Disease
Low selenium concentrations are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Selenium supplements or an increase of selenium-rich foods may be able to help prevent coronary heart disease.
To date, selenium concentrations have been inversely associated with coronary heart disease risk in observational studies, however observational studies can at times lead to misleading evidence and so findings are still inconclusive as to whether selenium will be commonly prescribed for heart disease patients going forward. (8)
5. Regulates Thyroid Function
Research is now showing, through numerous studies, that there is a link between thyroid metabolism and selenium deficiency. Selenium acts as a catalyst for the production of active thyroid hormones. (9)
If you imagine that your body is a manufacturing facility, the your thyroid would be the main boss in charge of regulating the whole operating system, so when the thyroid isn’t working properly, there are many serious, noticeable consequences.
The thyroid gland controls numerous important everyday body functions including appetite, sleep, temperature, weight, energy, and more.
A problem with proper thyroid function can result in negative symptoms such as irritability, muscle weakness, fatigue, weight gain or loss, trouble sleeping, and many other reactions, therefore acquiring proper amounts of selenium benefits the thyroid and body in many important ways.
A deficiency in selenium is correlated with problems within the thyroid and how it synthesizes the proper hormones, therefore more and more we can see the value of using selenium supplements to treat autoimmune and thyroid disorders.
Selenium acts as a powerful protector of the thyroid and regulates the production of reactive oxygen within the gland, and protects it from antibodies that can create thyroid disease. (10)
For these reasons, selenium benefits are also being investigated to see if they can help patients with Hashimoto’s disease, Grave’s disease, and in pregnant women with anti-TPO antibodies. Selenium may be able to increase immunity, lower autoimmune reactions, and to lower inflammation in these populations.
6. Increases Longevity
Studies have shown just how important this vital mineral is to our health and longevity. If you want to live a long, vibrant life, selenium is definitely a mineral you want to include in your diet.
Selenium has also been studied for the treatment of dozens of conditions that range from asthma to arthritis; from thyroid disorder to heart disease. The risk of these conditions increase as we age, so consuming selenium can help to defend the body and contribute to a long life.
Selenium is a trace mineral, which means we only need a small amount of it. However our body is able to flush selenium out of your system somewhat quickly since it plays an actionable role in many important body functions, therefore it’s important to consume it regularly especially as you age in order to take advantage of all of these mentioned selenium benefits.
7. Helps Reduce Asthma Symptoms
Observational studies have demonstrated that patients with chronic asthma may have lower levels of selenium. (11) According to studies, when people with asthma took selenium supplements, they experienced less asthma related symptoms than those who took a placebo.
Experts think that selenium supplementation may be a useful add-on treatment to medication for patients with chronic asthma. However more research is needed before this becomes a regular practice, as they have yet to determine selenium’s full effect on lung function.
8. Can Help Boost Fertility
It appears that both low and high sperm selenium concentrations are reported to have a negative influence on the number of sperm, therefore aiming to meet the recommendation but not to far exceed it is important for fertility.
Some studies also show that selenium may even reduce the risk of miscarriage, however at this point more research has been dedicated to infertility in men than in women when it comes to selenium supplementation. (13)
Recommended Dietary Allowance of Selenium
It is important to note that if you already consume proper amounts of selenium from a healthy diet, consuming more selenium may not be beneficial and high doses reaching 400 mcg can even be harmful.
Experts warn that it’s crucial that the public understands that selenium benefits work best when levels are met through eating selenium rich foods. No one should exceed recommendations by supplementing with very high doses without consulting a physician.
According to studies, additional selenium intake may benefit people with a low status, but at the same time those with adequate-to-high statuses of selenium in their body might be affected adversely, experience toxicity, and should not take selenium supplements purposefully for this reason. (4)
The recommended daily allowance for selenium depends on your age and is as follows, according to the USDA:
- Children 1-3: 20 micrograms/day
- Children 4-8: 30 micrograms/day
- Children 9-13: 40 micrograms/day
- Adults and children 14 and up: 55 micrograms/day
- Pregnant women: 60 micrograms/day
- Breastfeeding women: 70 micrograms/day
Best Sources of Selenium
Here are the top 11 foods naturally high in trace mineral selenium (percentages based on RDA of 55 mcg/day for adults):
1. Brazil Nuts
1 cup: 607 mcg (1,103% DV)
1 medium egg: 146 mcg (265% DV)
1 cup: 105 mcg (190% DV)
4. Liver (from lamb for beef)
3 oz: 99 mcg (180% DV)
3 oz: 64 mcg (116% DV)
3 oz: 64 mcg (116% DV)
7. Herring Fish
3 oz: 39 mcg (71% DV)
8. Chicken Breast
3 oz: 33.2 mcg (58% DV)
3 oz: 31 mcg (56% DV)
3 oz: 25 mcg (45% DV)
11. Chia Seeds
1 oz: 15.6 mcg (28% DV)
1 cup mixed: 15 mcg (27% DV)
Causes of Selenium Deficiency
Selenium can be found in soil and from food sources. There are actually 4 naturally occurring types of the trace mineral selenium. The 4 natural states of selenium are: elemental selenium, selenide, selenite, and selenate.
Two types, selenate and selenite, are found predominately in water whereas the other two types, selenium are the kinds found in soil and therefore in food sources. For humans, the primary pathway of consuming selenium is through food, followed by water and then by air. (2)
The content of selenium in soil differs a lot depending on the location; for example, certain studies show concern that parts of Europe and Africa have soil low in selenium levels and that the populations living in those areas may be suffering from compromised immunity because of this.
There’s more evidence in other studies showing that a decline in blood selenium concentration in taking place in populations in parts of the UK and other European Union countries, which worries health experts. Health authorities worry about several potential health implications that can result due to a selenium deficiency.
Even in food sources, the amount of selenium is largely dependent on soil conditions that the food grew in, therefore even within the same food, levels of selenium can vary widely and selenium benefits may be found in crops grown in certain locations more-so than others .
Suffering from a selenium deficiency is correlated with an increased risk of mortality, poor immune function, and cognitive decline. (3)
While the RDA for selenium for adults is 55 mcg/daily, the average daily intake of selenium in the U.S. is believed to be 125 mcg per day, which far meets the daily requirements. According to research, populations in the U.S of the Eastern Coastal Plain and the Pacific Northwest have the lowest selenium levels, due to the soil in those areas.
These populations average consuming 60 to 90 mcg per day, which is still considered to be adequate intake but less than other populations where the soil is more selenium-rich.
Testing for Deficiency
If you have a condition that puts you at risk for selenium deficiency, you may want to have your levels tested to see if you can experience additional selenium benefits by taking a supplement. To find out your current selenium levels, you can have a blood or hair test done by your doctor.
However a blood test will only show you the amount of selenium you’ve taken recently. And the accuracy of hair tests is also not very consistent, since the mineral is stored differently throughout different organs and systems.
For example your thyroid stores more selenium than anywhere else in the body because selenium plays a big part in metabolic processes.
Because experts don’t often find selenium deficiencies in populations that are generally not malnourished or who have compromised immunity, its believed that as long as you include natural food sources of selenium in your diet regularly and are otherwise healthy, there is a only a small chance you could suffer a deficiency that could lead to any serious risks.
Interactions & Selenium Side Effects
Taken at normal doses, selenium does not usually have negative side effects.
An overdose of selenium may possibly cause reactions like bad breath, fever, nausea, and potentially liver complications or even kidney and heart problems, although these only occur at very high levels of selenium that reach “poisoning” status.
Again the toxicity of most forms of selenium is rare and usually only experienced in people who supplement with high levels of selenium. Too high of levels can lead to selenium poisoning or toxicity, and this can potentially be fatal or lead to heart attack and respiratory (lung) depression.
The US National Toxicology Program also lists certain types of selenium as an animal carcinogen, but there is no evidence that all types can harm animals and that this poses a serious risk in everyday situations. (14)
Selenium may also interact with other medicines and supplements. These include antacids, chemotherapy drugs, corticosteroids, niacin, cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, and birth control pills. If you take any of these medications, its best to speak with your doctor before supplementing with any vitamins and minerals, including selenium.
Getting Enough Selenium From Your Diet
To add more selenium to your diet naturally, try any of the recipes below which feature foods rich in selenium.
- If you like salmon, try making these Salmon Cakes or some delicious Terriyaki Salmon
- Chicken Salad or Coconut Curried Chicken
- as a side dish, you can make Mushroom Soup or this Green Bean Casserole which also has mushrooms in it
- As a snack or dessert topping for some frozen organic yogurt, try this Grainless Granola and add Brazil nuts or sunflower seeds to beef up the selenium!
What is your favorite selenium benefit?