Sandra Justice, P.D., FACA
Selenium is a trace mineral and an important part of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase. It is an effective antioxidant, especially when combined with vitamin E. It helps prevent harmful chemical reactions from occurring in the body’s cells. Protected cells are better able to fight off diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and disorders associated with aging.
Viruses of all kinds the world over, including AIDS, are mutating, growing more resistant to the drugs meant to combat them. Research shows that malnutrition- in particular, deficiencies of selenium and vitamin E- promote such mutation.
Therapeutic Uses of Selenium
- Cancer: Acts as an antioxidant, protecting against or reducing the incidence of breast, colon, liver, skin, and respiratory tumors and cancer.
- Heart disease: Prevents and manages coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and stroke by helping to lower LDL cholesterol and reduce platelet aggregation. Reduces post-heart attack mortality. Successful in treatment of Keshan disease.
- Immunodepression: Boosts immune function and white blood cell development. Suggested in the treatment of depressed immune disorders such as lupus. Contributes to body’s ability to fight bactericidal action of phagocytes. Counters heavy metal toxicity such as lead, mercury, and cadmium poisoning. Stimulates antibody formation in response to vaccinations.
- Liver disease: Effective against alcohol-induced cirrhosis of the liver and alcoholic cardiomyopathy. Promotes proper liver and metabolic function.
- Skin disorders: Indicated for treatment of acne, eczema, psoriasis, vasculitis, and other skin disorders. Responds to vitamin E deficiencies in combination with vitamin E supplementation. Prevents premature aging.
- Muscular and inflammatory illness: Effective in treating all major symptoms of myotonic dystrophy. Suggested in the treatment of inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
- Eyesight: Required for the antioxidant protection of the lens; helps prevent cataract formation.
- Reproductive health: May assist in male fertility, prostate function, and sperm motility.
- Promotes healthy fetal development and may help in prevention of SIDS.
Brewer’s yeast and wheat germ, liver, butter, fish and shellfish, poultry, garlic, grains, sunflower seeds, and brazil nuts are all food sources for naturally occurring selenium. The amount of selenium in foodstuffs corresponds directly to selenium levels in soil. The Eastern Coastal Plain and the Pacific Northwest have the lowest soil selenium levels. Herbal sources include alfalfa, burdock root, fennel seed, ginseng, and yarrow.
Selenium is destroyed when foods are refined or processed. A diet consisting of a variety of foods in their original state, not canned, frozen, or commercially prepared is recommended.
People eating good diets and living in or near selenium-rich soils should still consider taking another 50 mcg of selenium daily. Those eating average diets and living in selenium-poor regions should consider taking 100 mcg of selenium daily as a supplement. Those who eat a poor diet or are at risk for cancer and other diseases discussed should consider taking 200 mcg of selenium daily. Cancer patients should take whatever amount of selenium is necessary to restore their blood levels to normal. Children’s doses range from 20 to 40mcg depending on age. Pregnant and lactating women’s doses are 60 mcg and 70 mcg respectively. Supplementation in children and pregnancy should be on advice of a healthcare provider.
Vitamin E (200 IU -400 IU daily) increases selenium’s effectiveness as an antioxidant.
Selenium is usually not toxic. However, high doses (more than 1,000 mcg a day) over time may produce fatigue, arthritis, hair or fingernail loss, garlicky breath or body odor, gastrointestinal disorders, or irritability. High levels of selenium have also been discovered in children with behavioral problems.
Use and absorption of selenium are hampered by high doses of vitamin C, heavy metals and, possibly, high intakes of zinc and other trace minerals. To avoid this, take your vitamin and mineral supplements at different times of the day. All supplements are best absorbed when taken with a meal. Vitamin C may also increase risk of selenium toxicity when high doses of selenium are being administered.
A Life-or-Death Difference
Selenium is essential to life and the diet cannot be relied upon to provide optimal levels of this vital nutrient. Sensible levels of selenium supplementation are the only assurance that you achieve optimal selenium nutrition.