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What Is Selenium?

Selenium is a trace mineral essential involved in many body processes. It’s found in soil. In the body, selenium is present in virtually every cell. As a matter of fact, it’s most abundant in the kidneys, liver, spleen, pancreas, and testes.


What Does It Do

Selenium acts as an antioxidant. It blocks the rogue molecules known as free radicals that damage DNA. It’s part of an antioxidant enzyme (called glutathione peroxidase) that protects cells against environmental as well as dietary toxins. You’ll often find it included in antioxidant “cocktails” with vitamins C and E. This combination may help guard against a range of disorders. These include heart disease, cataracts, and macular degeneration, and strokes.


Common Uses Of Selenium

  • Works with vitamin E to help prevent heart disease.


  • Protects against cataracts and macular degeneration.


  • Fights viral infections. Selenium reduces the severity of cold sores and shingles. It may slow the progression of HIV/AIDS.


  • Helps relieve lupus symptoms.


Major Benefits

Selenium has received a lot of attention recently for its role in potentially combating cancer. There was a dramatic five-year study conducted at Cornell University and the University of Arizona. This study showed that 200 mcg of selenium daily resulted in 63% fewer prostate tumors. Also, 58% fewer colorectal cancers and 46% fewer lung malignancies. In addition, a 39% overall decrease in cancer deaths. In other studies, selenium showed promise in preventing various cancers. These include the ovaries, cervix, rectum, bladder, esophagus, pancreas, and liver. It also may be helpful against leukemia. Studies of cancer patients show that people with low selenium levels developed more tumors. Also, they had a higher rate of disease recurrence and a greater risk of cancer spreading. Likewise they had a shorter overall survival rate than those with high blood levels of selenium.


Selenium can protect the heart. It does this primarily by reducing the “stickiness” of the blood. Also, it decreases the risk of clotting. This lowers the risk of heart attack and stroke. Moreover, selenium increases the ratio of HDL (“good”) cholesterol to LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. This is critical for a healthy heart. Are you a smoker or someone who’s already had a heart attack or stroke? You may gain the greatest cardiovascular benefits from selenium supplements. Ultimately, everyone can profit from taking selenium daily.


Additional Benefits 


Selenium may be useful in preventing cataracts and macular degeneration. This is the leading cause of impaired vision or blindness in older Americans. It is also vital for converting thyroid hormone from a less active form (called T4) to its active form (known as T3). Of course, the thyroid is needed for the proper functioning of every cell in the body.


The Immune System

In addition, selenium is essential for a healthy immune system. This assists the body in defending itself against harmful bacteria and viruses. Its immune-boosting effects may play a role in fighting the herpes virus. That’s the virus responsible for cold sores and shingles. It is also being studied for possible effectiveness against HIV. That’s the virus that causes AIDS.


When combined with vitamin E, selenium appears to have anti-inflammatory benefits. These two nutrients may improve chronic conditions. These include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, lupus, and eczema.


How Much Selenium Do You Need

The RDA for selenium is 70 mcg for men, and 55 mcg for women daily. To produce major benefits, up to 600 mcg a day may be needed.


If You Get Too Little:

Most Americans consume enough selenium in their daily diet, so deficiencies are rare. Falling below the RDA, however, may lead to problems. These include higher incidences of cancer, heart disease, immune problems, and inflammatory conditions of all kinds. In particular, those affecting the skin. Insufficient amounts of selenium during pregnancy could increase the risk of birth defects. This is especially true for those involving the heart. Or, possibly, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Early symptoms of selenium deficiency include muscular weakness and fatigue.


If You Get Too Much:

It’s hard to get too much selenium from your diet. No doubt you’re taking this mineral in supplement form. There’s an important point to remember. That is, the margin of safety between a therapeutic dose of selenium and a toxic dose is small compared with other nutrients. A therapeutic dose would be 600 mcg, while a toxic dose is 900 mcg, and up. What are the symptoms of toxicity? Nervousness, depression, nausea and vomiting, a garlicky odor to the breath and perspiration. Also, a loss of hair and fingernails.


How To Take It


Most experts agree the optimum dose for long-term use is 100 mcg to 400 mcg daily. You can take 600 mcg daily for a limited time to treat viral infections.


Guidelines For Use:

Vitamin E enhances selenium’s effectiveness. Make sure that you get 400 IU daily.


Other Sources Of Selenium

The most abundant sources include Brazil nuts, seafood, poultry, and meats. In addition, grains such as oats also have significant amounts.



Don’t exceed recommended doses. In some people, taking selenium long-term (as little as 900 mcg a day) can cause serious side effects. These include skin rashes, nausea, fatigue, hair loss, fingernail changes, and depression.


Latest Findings


  • Recent studies show that in the test tube selenium works relatively quickly. This helps cells grow and die at normal rates. Experts suspect that selenium’s cancer-fighting benefits may be fairly fast-acting in the body as well.


  • This is according to the journal Agriculture Research. Animal studies show that a deficiency in selenium or vitamin E can convert an inactive virus into its active, disease-causing form. This may help explain why it’s effective against cold sores and shingles. These are both caused by the reactivation of a dormant herpes virus.


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