Selenium is an essential mineral that the human body needs in small amounts to maintain good health. Selenium helps in regulating the thyroid gland, in maintaining a strong immune system and can also help defend against free radicals. Higher levels of selenium have been linked to lower rates of cancer and HIV (and higher rates of diabetes), while low levels have been linked to feelings of depression and exhaustion. Selenium deficiency is the cause of serious diseases, such as Keshan Disease, which affects the heart. Selenium deficiency also suppresses the immune system and can increase vulnerability to other diseases.
However, selenium is extremely toxic in high amounts (over 400 micrograms per day), and if you suspect you need to take supplements, checking with a doctor first is a good idea. Selenium levels can easily be tested for in blood or urine samples, and a doctor will then be able to recommend the best supplements to take. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should not take excess amounts of selenium without first consulting their doctor.
Could You Have Selenium Deficiency?
Selenium deficiency is rare in most regions of the world, as the mineral naturally occurs in the soil and is ingested through a regular diet. However, selenium does not occur naturally in some parts of the world, such as New Zealand, and some parts of China and Russia. People living in those areas may find it beneficial to take a supplement. Selenium may also be taken out of the soil by modern farming processes, leaving some plants with lower levels of selenium.
Who Should Take Selenium Supplements?
People with gastrointestinal damage or disease, such as those who suffer from Crohn’s disease or who have had surgery on the stomach area, may have more difficulty absorbing selenium in sufficient amounts and may have to take supplements. Selenium supplements may also be useful for people with thyroid disorders, or people who have a vitamin E or iodine deficiency. Very elderly people (over 90) may also benefit from selenium supplements.
What Foods Naturally Contain Selenium?
Selenium is found naturally in many different foods, such as meats, eggs, rice and corn. However, Brazil nuts are the single best way to get sufficient amounts of selenium from food. In fact, it is recommended that people do not eat too many Brazil nuts in one sitting, as that can lead to selenosis (selenium toxicity). One ounce of Brazil nuts can contain up to 500 or more micrograms of selenium. However, the amount of selenium in Brazil nuts is dependent on where they were grown and is not always the same. People who don’t have selenium deficiency, but want to ensure they are getting adequate amounts of selenium in their diets, could trying eating Brazil nuts occasionally.
Selenium is a mineral that can be highly beneficial, as well as being essential in small amounts. People living in areas with poor amounts of selenium in the soil, or who have physical conditions that may affect their ability to absorb selenium, should definitely look at taking supplements. However, selenium can also be dangerous if taken to excess, so checking with a doctor first is the best idea.