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Selenium

Illustration

Selenium is an essential trace mineral.

Where is it found?

Brazil nuts are the best source of selenium. Yeast, whole grains, and seafood are also good sources. Animal studies have found that selenium from yeast is better absorbed than selenium in the form of selenite.1

Selenium has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):

Science Ratings Health Concerns
2Stars

Asthma

Atherosclerosis

Colon cancer (reduces risk)

Depression

Dermatitis herpetiformis

Heart attack

HIV support

Immune function (for elderly people)

Infections (to prevent hospital-acquired infections in very low birth weight infants)

Infertility (male)

Lung cancer (reduces risk)

Lymphedema

Osgood-Schlatter disease

Pancreatic insufficiency

Phenylketonuria (if deficient)

Prostate cancer (reduces risk)

Rheumatoid arthritis

Thyroiditis (autoimmune)

1Star

Cardiac arrhythmia

Cardiomyopathy (only for Keshan’s cardiomyopathy)

Childhood diseases

Down’s syndrome

Halitosis (if gum disease)

Hepatitis

Hypothyroidism (if deficient)

Liver cirrhosis

Macular degeneration

Pap smear (abnormal)

Pre- and post-surgery health

Retinopathy (combined with vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E)

3Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.

Who is likely to be deficient?

While most people probably don’t take in enough selenium, gross deficiencies are rare in Western countries. Soils in some areas are selenium-deficient and people who eat foods grown primarily on selenium-poor soils are at risk for deficiency. People with AIDS have been reported to be depleted in selenium.2 Similarly, limited research has reported an association between heart disease and depleted levels of selenium.3 People who are deficient in selenium have an increased risk of developing certain types of rheumatoid arthritis.4

How much is usually taken?

While the Recommended Dietary Allowance for most adults is 55 mcg per day, an adult intake of 100–200 mcg of selenium per day is recommended by many doctors.

Are there any side effects or interactions?

Selenium is safe at the level people typically supplement (100–200 mcg); however, taking more than 900 mcg of selenium per day has been reported to cause adverse effects in some people.5 Selenium toxicity can result in loss of fingernails, skin rash, and changes in the nervous system. In the presence of iodine-deficiency-induced goiter, selenium supplementation has been reported to exacerbate low thyroid function.6 Although most research suggests that selenium prevents cancer, one study found an increased risk of a type of skin cancer (squamous cell carcinoma) in people taking selenium supplements.7 The National Academy of Sciences recommends that selenium intake not exceed 400 mcg per day, unless the higher intake is monitored by a healthcare professional.8

Selenium enhances the antioxidant effect of vitamin E.

Are there any drug interactions?
Certain medicines may interact with selenium. Refer to drug interactions for a list of those medicines.

References:

1. Yoshida M, Fukunaga K, Tsuchita H, Yasumoto K. An evaluation of the bioavailability of selenium in high-selenium yeast. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol 1999;45:119–28.

2. Dworkin BM. Selenium deficiency in HIV infection and the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Chem Biol Iteract 1994;91:181–6.

3. Moore JA, Noiva R, Wells IC. Selenium concentrations in plasma of patients with arteriographically defined coronary atherosclerosis. Clin Chem 1984;30:1171–3.

4. Knekt P, Heliovaara M, Aho K, et al. Serum selenium, serum alpha-tocopherol, and the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. Epidemiology 2000;11:402–5.

5. Yang GQ, Zhou RH. Further observations on the human maximum safe dietary selenium intake in a seleniferous area of China. J Trace Elem Electrolytes Hlth Dis 1994;8:159–65.

6. Contempre B, Dumont JE, Ngo B, et al. Effects of selenium supplementation in hypothyroid subjects of an iodine and selenium deficient area: The possible danger of indiscriminate supplementation of iodine deficient subjects with selenium. J Clin Endocrinol Metabol 1991;73:213–5.

7. Duffield-Lillico AJ, Slate EH, Reid ME, et al. Selenium supplementation and secondary prevention of nonmelanoma skin cancer in a randomized trial. J Natl Cancer Inst 2003;95:1477–81.

8. Panel on Dietary Antioxidants and Related Compounds, Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2000.

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