Some of the world’s most lethal diseases are connected to a health problem that might be more common than you think. Chronic inflammation is condition that is linked to many health issues and believed to be caused by factors such as poor weight health, lack of exercise, environmental pollutants, stress, depression, disease and excessive alcohol use.
Unlike acute inflammation, which is the short-term immune response that occurs when you are injured, chronic inflammation is the persistent reoccurrence of this reaction that causes the immune system to turn on the body’s organs. Chronic inflammation can occur long after the initiating injury and can lead to symptoms that progress from uncomfortable to debilitating. Although symptoms can differ from person to person, some commonly experienced indicators of chronic inflammation include fatigue, trouble sleeping, depression, stomach pain, obesity, digestive issues, and inflamed skin.
Chronic inflammation is also a second component to many other serious health problems like heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and cancer. In fact, there is a growing link between chronic inflammation and the onset of cancer in studies. Epidemiological evidence indicates that the inflammation can predispose people to developing cancer. Additionally, the longer the inflammation persists, the more likely cancer is to develop.
All this discussion about inflammation and disease is important, but how does it relate to selenium?
If you are already familiar with the benefits of selenium, you might know that there is a lot of interest in its role in cancer prevention. Due to its antioxidant and detoxing properties, selenium is known to protect against disease and oxidative damage common with chronic stress and illness.
What is Selenium?
Selenium is trace mineral that plays a crucial role in the body’s defense system. It is found in soil as well as in foods such as brazil nuts, seafood, sunflower seeds, eggs, chicken, spinach and rice. Primarily, selenium is a nutrient that the body requires to regenerate cells, ward off illness and maintain proper thyroid function. However, this mineral has stirred quite a bit of interest in recent years as it possesses many more health benefits than just maintaining key functions in the body.
Why is Selenium Popular?
Selenium was first discovered 200 years ago by the Swedish chemist Baron Jons Jacob, one of the influential leaders of chemical science. You might recognize selenium as one of the elements on the periodic table, denoted as Se. It was once believed to be toxic until the 1960's when scientists tested it to treat cancer tumors. Selenium in very high dosages can still be harmful, but it is also shown to be just as vital to the body’s health when consumed in health proportions.
Since the 1960's, many studies have been conducted on the benefits and uses of selenium for immune health. As more research sheds light on the importance of selenium, selenium has become increasingly popular and has started appearing in many more health supplements.
What Benefits are Backed by Science?
Selenium plays a key role in some of the most basic functions in the body, but this isn’t the only reason it’s making headlines. There are many claims on the health uses of this trace mineral and some of them are more scientifically credible than others.
Here are some of Selenium’s top, scientifically-backed benefits:
Has Antioxidant Abilities and Reduces Oxidative Stress
At the root of many of selenium’s richest health benefits is its use as an antioxidant. Now more than ever, humans are experiencing higher rates of obesity, inflammation, stroke, heart disease and cancer. Antioxidants are critical to preventing many of these complications and fighting free radicals that trigger oxidative damage.
Oxidation occurs when the body metabolizes the oxygen that our cells use for energy. Like antioxidants, free radicals are a natural byproduct of this process. In small amounts, these molecules are not harmful. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants. Specifically, this state is triggered when there are not enough antioxidants to fight off the damaging free radicals. Free radicals can cause cell mutations and damage DNA, proteins and lipids. This can lead a variety of debilitating health issues and diseases, many of which are familiar foes: Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart disease, chronic fatigue, arthritis, inflammatory disease, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.
Both physical and mental stresses can trigger this free radical imbalance. The pollutants in the air we breathe, the unhealthy foods we consume, and long-term stress can all have significant impacts on our body’s ability to fight off free radicals. When oxidative stress does occur, symptoms such as memory loss, fatigue, inflammation and disease can come into play. For this reason, maintaining your antioxidant count is arguably one of the most important aspects of your immune and overall health.
Selenium is a key component in the production of selenoproteins, antioxidant enzymes that fuel the immune system’s defense against oxidative stress and disease. Selenoproteins help form glutathione peroxidase, the body’s ultimate detoxifier and antioxidant. It helps filter out toxins and protect the cells from damage. Without proper selenium levels, the body cannot adequately protect itself from disease, aging and cell damage.
May Help Prevent Cancer
Selenium supplementation also exhibits anti-cancer qualities, which lines up with its essential role in protecting against oxidative damage and disease. In a scientific review of selenium’s anti-cancer properties, the micronutrient was shown not only to have an impact on the prevention of cancer but also its progression. Selenium is shown to reduce mortality and severity of cancers, specifically in the liver, prostate, colorectal and lungs.
A study in 2014 found that higher selenium levels were associated with a decreased risk of colorectal cancer, which the second leading cause of cancer-linked deaths in Europe. The study collected samples from over 520,000 people in 10 European countries and found that higher levels of selenium could reduce cancer risk.
Another review published in Scientific Reports found that higher selenium levels decreased the risk of breast cancer, lung cancer, esophageal cancer, gastric cancer and prostate cancer. Selenium does not appear to have the exact same preventative effect on all cancers, so more studies need to be conducted to understand its uses as an anti-cancer agent.
Boosts Immune System Function
Since selenium acts as an antioxidant, it is studied for its benefits in reducing the onset and progression of many disease such as HIV. People with HIV often have lower selenium levels, and since this is associated with poorer immunity, researchers have studied selenium supplementation as a potential treatment for the disease.
One trial of 186 participants with HIV found that selenium supplementation reduced disease-related hospital visits and health costs over the course of two years. Selenium is also shown to reduce the progression of HIV to AIDS, a very important finding for countries where the disease is prevalent among both adults and children.
Promotes Joint Health and Immunity
Selenium is often understood to have an impact on joint health because its antioxidant properties. This micronutrient is also shown to promote joint mobility by regenerating and protecting cartilage health. A study conducted in 2011 found that selenium protected chondrocytes in growth plate cartilage and promoted the formation of trabecular bone. In rodent studies, selenium reduced pro-inflammatory compounds and inflammatory cells in the knee cavity.
Prevents Heart Disease and Improves Blood Flow
As an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, it’s not surprising that selenium has a part to play in cardiovascular health. Selenium can help stimulate blood flow and fight oxidative stress, two necessary functions to prevent the onset of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.
A meta-analysis of selenium’s effect on coronary heart disease found that in observational studies, a 50% increase in selenium levels was linked to a 24% reduction in the risk of heart disease. Despite these results, evidence is still needed from ongoing trials to prove selenium’s usage for heart disease.
Improves Thyroid Health and Function
Deficiencies in selenium can have a negative impact on thyroid health and commonly occur in people who have conditions that decrease the absorption of nutrients such as Crohn’s and celiac disease. Selenium deficiencies are also more prevalent among people who suffer from chronic inflammation and illness.
It is well understood that selenium is an important component of thyroid health, but new research suggests it could also function as a treatment to autoimmune and thyroid disorders. Selenium’s thyroid benefits may be due to the increase in glutathione peroxidase activity that is triggered when the micronutrient is consumed. Glutathione peroxidase enzymes function as antioxidants that protect the cells and remove toxins, two functions necessary to protect the body from autoimmune diseases and promote thyroid health.
One study in 2002 found that selenium significantly impacted inflammatory activity thyroid diseases. While another study published in the International Journal of Endocrinology in 2017 found selenium to be beneficial in immunological mechanism and as treatment for Graves' orbitopathy, also known as Thyroid Eye Disease.
Increases Longevity and Vitality
Antioxidants are the key to a long, vital life and selenium is one of the important minerals needed to sustain it. As we age, the risk of developing conditions like arthritis, heart disease, chronic inflammation, thyroid disfunction increases. Selenium is a necessary nutrient needed to ward off these health issues that become more prevalent with stress and age.
Helps Soothe Asthma Symptoms
Selenium may also reduce the symptoms of asthma, according to observational studies conducted of patients with severe asthma. Since asthma is associated with increased oxidative stress, selenium is believed to help reduce symptoms by increasing antioxidant activity and reducing inflammation. However, more clinical research is still needed to confirm selenium’s benefits for asthma.
Can Increase Fertility
Selenium helps increase blood flow and is necessary for healthy sperm development. As an antioxidant, selenium also protects the sperm from oxidative damage during the maturation stage and protects the egg from harmful toxins. Additionally, low selenium levels are associated with higher rates of infertility. Maintaining health selenium levels seems to be an important factor in promoting fertility and protecting against damage.
How Much Selenium Should I Take?
Selenium dosage depends your age and gender. Infants and toddlers require 20 micrograms (mcg) a day, while children need 30-40 mcg. Teenagers and adults need 55 mcg, but breastfeeding and pregnant women need closer to 60-70 mcg a day.
The Truth About Selenium Dosage
Very high amounts of selenium, specifically over 400 mcg could cause health issues, which is why the beneficial mineral is sometimes as a toxic substance. However, this fact is frequently sensationalized in media.
Selenium is generally shown to have low toxicity, but like many minerals taking too much can have adverse effects on your health. Eating too much of a food that is very high in selenium such as brazil nuts, which can contain up to 544 mcg per serving (6-8 nuts), can overload the body with the mineral.
Side Effects and Safety
Side effects of too much selenium include nausea, vomiting, brittle nails, bad breath, gastrointestinal distress, fatigue and hair loss.
However, when taken in very high amounts, more severe selenium poisoning can occur. Conditions such as pneumonia, bronchial inflammation, gastrointestinal issues, chronic hair loss and interactions with medications can occur. A small number of acute selenium toxicity outbreaks have occurred as a result of supplements containing nearly 200 times the amount of selenium listed on the label.
When taken in appropriate dosages, selenium is safe and non-toxic.
What About Selenium Deficiency?
Since humans consume selenium primarily through food, some diets can cause deficiencies. Certain parts of East Asia, Europe and Africa are known as low-selenium areas but there are several other regions throughout the world that contain lower selenium levels in soil. Selenium and other important minerals can be depleted in the soil or not sufficiently absorbed by plants as an aftereffect of rigorous agricultural practices. If you eat primarily local-grown food from a region that is low in selenium, there is a chance you could be deficient.
Low selenium can lead to Keshan disease and potential kidney issues, although there isn’t a scientific consensus on how much it negatively impacts kidney health. The primary health concern with selenium deficiencies is the body’s inability to defend against disease and oxidative stress. People who don’t consume enough of this vital mineral are predisposed to developing health issues they might otherwise avoid with a balanced diet.
What Form Should I Use?
Selenium is found in many forms, but not all contain the same health benefits. The cheapest and most common forms of selenium are inorganic sodium selenite and sodium selenite. These forms may have an attractive price tag, but they are actually more toxic and difficult for the body to assimilate and utilize. Research suggests that the most efficient, well-absorbed form of selenium is selenomethionine. It is an organic form of selenium found in naturally-occurring amino acids that is better tolerated by the body.
Capsule or Liquid?
Selenium supplements can be found in both capsule and liquid forms. However, the body better absorbs selenium in liquid form. Taking Vitamin E with selenium can also boost its effects as both nutrients increase the absorption of each other.
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