2265 North Clybourn Avenue    Chicago, IL 60614    P: 773.296.6700     F: 773.296.1131

Selenium

What Is It?

The trace mineral selenium makes its way into our bodies because it is contained in certain foods. Over time, it becomes part of nearly every cell, with particularly high concentrations in the kidneys, liver, pancreas, spleen, and testes.

The most concentrated food source for selenium is the Brazil nut; a single one contains 120 mcg, (which is about twice the RDA). Seafood in general, as well as poultry and meat, are also good sources. So are grains, especially oats and brown rice.

The concentration of selenium in all these food sources depends on a variable that’s very hard for the consumer to determine: the level of selenium in the soil in which the plant grew (and which the animal then ate).

Only over the past two decades have scientists begun to understand just what a vital role selenium plays in numerous biological functions. Perhaps its most crucial job is to prevent disease.

Health Benefits

Selenium has many tasks to perform in the body. It helps to boost the immune system and fight off infection, providing a general increase in the body’s defense against dangerous bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells. On a basic cellular level, every cell in the body needs a particular hormone from the thyroid gland that selenium helps to convert to an active form.

Perhaps the most famed use of selenium in supplement form is as an antioxidant; it helps to mop up dangerous molecules known as free radicals that can damage and alter healthy cells. It has also been recommended for staving off the effects of aging. In many cases there’s relatively weak evidence for these uses. But not all.

Specifically, selenium may help to:

Prevent cancer. Test-tube studies indicate that in addition to fostering healthy cell growth and division, selenium discourages the formation of tumors.
When researchers at Cornell University and the University of Arizona pooled results from 5-year studies designed to assess the effects of selenium supplements (200 mcg daily), they came up with some startling findings: Compared with the rest of the population, participants had 63% fewer prostate cancers, 58% fewer colorectal tumors, and 46% fewer lung cancers. Overall, their death rate from cancer was 39% lower than the average.

Earlier studies had found that in people already diagnosed with cancer, those whose selenium levels were lowest developed more subsequent tumors than those whose selenium levels were highest. Individuals with low selenium levels also had a greater likelihood of cancer recurrence, were at higher risk of having the cancer spread to new organs, and generally survived shorter periods of time.

Protect against heart attack and stroke. Selenium may decrease the “stickiness” of the blood, lessening its tendency to clot and thus reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. In addition, the mineral may encourage healthy heart function by increasing the proportion of HDL (“good”) cholesterol to LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. People who have already had a heart attack or a stroke, or who smoke, appear to benefit the most from selenium.

Guard against cataracts and macular degeneration. Selenium may help prevent the two most common causes of impaired vision and blindness in older Americans–cataracts and macular degeneration–by providing antioxidant actions that fight free radicals. It’s these free radicals, after all, that often damage the eye’s lens (the site of cataracts) and the macula at the center of the eye’s retina (the site of macular degeneration).

Promote healing of cold sores and shingles. When the herpes virus erupts from a dormant state in the body, painful cold sores and shingles may appear. Selenium, an immune-system booster, may help suppress this kind of eruption. Interestingly, findings published in Agriculture Research indicate that mice with low levels of selenium or vitamin E were particularly prone to herpes virus outbreaks.

Fight inflammation associated with lupus. Selenium’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions may be enhanced when combined with vitamin E. For people with lupus, an inflammatory autoimmune disease, this nutrient duo may foster healing of the skin and help protect the heart, blood vessels, skin, joints, and other parts of the body prone to inflammation. Along the same lines, the selenium/vitamin E combination may benefit people with other types of inflammatory disorders too, such as psoriasis, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Note: Selenium has also been found to be useful for a number of other disorders. For information on these additional ailments, see our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Selenium.

Recommended Intake

The RDA for selenium is 55 mcg for women and 70 mcg for men. Most adults readily obtain this amount through their regular diet, and it’s rare that people living in an industrialized country become deficient in this important trace mineral.

If You Get Too Little

Symptoms of selenium deficiency include muscle weakness and fatigue. Poor selenium intake over time may even increase the risk for cancer, immune-system problems, heart disease, and various inflammatory conditions (especially skin-related ones).

If You Get Too Much

While many foods are rich in selenium–it’s found in grain, meats, seafood, and poultry–you’re unlikely to ingest too much of this trace mineral from your diet.

Taking selenium in concentrated supplement form is a little different, however. Toxic reactions are a risk if you get an overdose. In one case, people who mistakenly took nearly 500 times the RDA for selenium–from bottles of 30 mg selenium pills that were erroneously labeled as 200 mcg pills–suffered hair loss, nausea, vomiting, and fingernail changes. Other signs of potential toxicity include depression, anxiety, and a garlicky odor emanating from the breath and perspiration.

General Dosage Information

For preventing the effects of aging and protecting against cancer: Take 400 mcg a day.

For guarding against cataracts and macular degeneration: Take 200 to 400 mcg a day.

For cold sores and shingles: During flare-ups, take 600 mcg a day. Don’t take more than this amount, and do not continue for more than a few days.
Be sure to check out our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Selenium, which lists therapeutic dosages for specific ailments at a glance.

Guidelines for Use

Selenium may be most effective when taken in combination with at least 400 IU vitamin E daily.

For general antioxidant benefits, consider a high-potency antioxidant blend containing selenium along with vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, grape seed and green tea extracts, alpha-lipoic acid, coenzyme Q10, and N-acetylcysteine (NAC).

General Interaction

There are no known drug or nutrient interactions associated with selenium.

Cautions

Because of the risk of toxic levels building up in your system, avoid taking high doses–900 mcg or more at one time, or 600 mcg daily for an extended period of time. Be sure to also take into account the amount of selenium you’re getting from foods.

Ailments-Dosage

Acne 400 mcg a day
Aging 400 mcg a day
Cancer 200 mcg a day; may be covered by your daily multivitamin and antioxidant complex
Cancer Prevention 200 mcg a day; may be covered by daily multivitamin and antioxidant complex
Cataracts 200 mcg a day
Cold Sores 600 mcg a day only during flare-ups
Hair Problems 200 mcg a day; may be partially covered by antioxidant complex
Lupus 200 mcg a day
Macular Degeneration 200 mcg a day


Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, delicious and time-saving recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

BIRTHDAY

Health Tips

Dr. Edelberg’s Health Tips contain concise bits of advice, medical news, nutritional supplement and pharmaceutical updates, and stress relief ideas. With every Health Tip, you’ll also receive an easy, delicious, and healthful recipe.

When you sign up to receive Health Tips, you can look forward to Dr. Edelberg’s smart and very current observations arriving in your in-box weekly. They’re packed with helpful information and are often slightly irreverent. One of the most common responses to the tips is “I wish my doctor talked to me like this!”

Quick Connect

Get One Click Access to our

patient-portal

The Knowledge Base

Patient education is an integral part of our practice. Here you will find a comprehensive collection of staff articles, descriptions of therapies and nutritional supplements, information addressing your health concerns, and the latest research on nutritional supplements and alternative therapies.

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

Upcoming Workshops


**Winter Solstice Celebration: An evening of Acupuncture and Shamanic Healing
Tuesday, December 17, 5:45–7:30pm
Hosted by Katie Oberlin, HTCP and Mari Stecker, LAc

Course Fee: $75.00

Take a break from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season to enter the stillpoint of the Winter Solstice, reflect on the lessons of 2019, and set intentions for the new year. This will be an evening of individual and group healing, ceremony, and celebration. More →

Recent Health Tips

  • Ten Drugs Doctors Should Consider De-Prescribing

    Physicians use the word polypharmacy when a patient is taking five or more prescription drugs daily. A recent survey showed that half of women Medicare recipients were taking five or more drugs daily, and 12% of them were taking ten (!) or more. New patients frequently arrive at WholeHealth Chicago carrying bags stuffed like piñatas with prescription drugs and nutritional supplements, the latter recommended by Read More

  • Toxic Metals, Heart Disease, and Chelation Therapy

    In last week’s Health Tip I reviewed the well-researched health dangers of environmental toxic metals (also called heavy metals). They’ve always been a serious health risk, but with the Trump Administration’s recent rollbacks of clean air and water regulations we can expect even more trouble ahead. Statisticians predict an astonishing 160,000 unnecessary deaths over the next decade from the reversals of clean air and water Read More

  • Heavy Metal Toxicity and Your Health

    For those who were otherwise preoccupied that day long ago in high school chemistry, the heavy metals refer to a group of especially dense metals or metal-like substances (called metalloids) found in the environment. These metals–specifically lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and aluminum–can all be absorbed by your body and stored there. Our environment is already quite toxic (Trump’s EPA deregulations aren’t helping) and it’s getting Read More

This month, save 20% off all Metagenics Medical Foods

UltraMeal
UltraInflamX
UltraClear