What is selenium?

Selenium is an element that is found in small amounts in the body. It is essential for the organism, as it plays a role in thyroid function and in proper function of the immune system.



What is the function of selenium?

Within cells, selenium allows for the proper function of cellular antioxidants. Cellular antioxidants help fight damaging particles in the body known as free radicals. Free radicals can damage cell membranes and DNA, in turn contributing to aging and health problems. Antioxidants play a role in neutralizing the free radicals in order to reduce or prevent the damage that they may cause.  As part of tens of proteins, selenium often takes the name of ‘selenium protein’ and is involved in several other processes such as DNA synthesis at metabolism of thyroid glands, passing through to protect the body from infections and reproduction.   



Which foods are rich in selenium?

Foods that are rich in selenium include fish and meat. Other sources include red meat, dairy products and cereals. In general, the amount of selenium present in foods of plant origin depends on how much selenium was in the soil where the food was grown. Eating a variety of whole, unprocessed foods is the best way to get selenium into one’s diet.  



What is the recommended daily requirement of selenium?

The recommended daily intake of selenium varies depending on an individual’s age.

  • 20 micrograms per day for children up to the ages of 3
  •  30 micrograms per day for children up to the ages of 8
  • 40 micrograms per day for children up to the ages of 13
  • 55 micrograms per day for individuals over the ages of 14
  • 60-70 micrograms per day is recommended for women who are pregnant or lactating 



What are the consequences of selenium deficiency?

Selenium deficiency may reduce function of the skeletal muscles; interfere with the production of red blood cells, change skin and hair pigmentation, as well as increase fragility of the nails. Low selenium levels can also predispose to the development of diseases in the presence of additional stress. Such instances may involve viral infections, which can be associated with male infertility and can worsen the effects of iodine deficiency, thus increasing the risk of cretinism in children. Low levels of selenium may also be found in individuals who smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, take birth control pills or have conditions that prevent the absorption process of selenium (such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis).



What are the consequences of excessive selenium intake?

Cases of selenium poisoning taken via supplements have been associated with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, brittle nails and hair loss.



It is true that taking selenium is good for the health?

Selenium is considered a mineral that has proven to be effective and beneficial to an individual’s health. Some studies have associated selenium intake with reduced risks of cancer, cognitive effects, cardiovascular disease and thyroid problems. However, only further research can clarify the possible preventive role played by this element. In any case, due to potential side effects and interactions with medications, it is vital to speak with a health care provider before taking selenium supplements.