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The Beneficial Effects Of Dietary Selenium

Posted by Manuela Boyle on 16 January 2022
The Beneficial Effects Of Dietary Selenium

The trace mineral selenium functions primarily as a component of the antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase which works with vitamin E in preventing free radical damage to cell membranes. Low levels of selenium have been linked to a higher risk  inflammatory diseases, and other conditions associated with increased free radical damage including premature ageing and cataract formation. 

Selenium Provides Antioxidant Support
Maintaining proper selenium levels appear to be important in protecting against many health conditions due to its antioxidant effects. Some of the studies show some advantages to selenium-rich yeast in this activity. For example, in one double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, 69 healthy men were given a selenium from a selenium-rich yeast known as SelenoExcell (200 or 285 μg/day) or selenomethionine (200 μg/day) for 9 months. While blood selenium levels increased by 93%, 54%, and 86% in the selenomethionine and low- and high-dose SelenoExcell groups, respectively, only the men receiving the SelenoExcell demonstrated a decrease in standard markers of oxidative damage.

Selenium Prevents Cataract Formation
Maintaining proper selenium levels appear to be important in protecting against cataract formation. Studies have shown the selenium content in the human lens with a cataract is only 15% of normal levels and levels of free radicals are up to 25 times the normal levels in the aqueous humour (eye fluid) in patients with cataracts. 

Selenium Fights Heart Disease 
Selenium appears to offer protection against heart disease and strokes as rates for heart disease are highest where selenium intake is the lowest although the association is not as strong as it is in cancer. Selenium supplementation has been shown to produce positive effects in preventing heart attacks. In one double-blind study, 81 patients who had a heart attack were randomly assigned to receive 100 mcg of selenium (from selenium-rich yeast) or a placebo. After 6 months, there were 4 fatal heart attacks and 2 non-fatal heart attacks in the placebo group compared with no deaths and 1 non-fatal heart attack in the selenium group.

Selenium Enhances Immune Function 
Selenium affects all components of the immune system including the development and expression of all white blood cells. Selenium deficiency results in depressed immune function, whereas selenium supplementation results in augmentation and/or restoration of immune functions. Selenium deficiency has been shown to inhibit resistance to infection as a result of impaired white blood cell and thymus function while selenium supplementation (200 mcg/day) has been shown to stimulate white blood cell and thymus function. The ability of selenium supplementation to enhance immune function goes well beyond simply restoring selenium levels in selenium-deficient individuals. For example, in one study selenium supplementation (200 mcg/day) to individuals with normal selenium concentrations in their blood resulted in a 118% increase in the ability of white blood cells to kill tumour cells and 82.3% increase in the activity of a type of white blood cell known as a “natural killer cell” because of its powerful ability to kill cancer cells and microorganisms. 

The Right Dose                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The usual dosage recommendation is 50 to 200 mcg per day. At high intake levels (daily intake in excess of 900 mcg for several months), selenium can produce toxicity (see Side Effects).

Side Effects
The human body requires just a small amount of selenium. Dosages as low as 900 mcg per day over prolonged periods of time may produce signs of selenium toxicity in some people. Signs and symptoms related to chronic toxicity include depression, nervousness, emotional instability, nausea and vomiting, a garlic odor of the breath and sweat, and, in extreme cases, loss of hair and fingernails. 

Drug Interactions
No adverse interactions are known. Selenium may increase the effectiveness of the chemotherapy drug cisplatin (Platinol-AQ®).

Author:Manuela Boyle
Tags:NewsNutritional SupplementsPrevention & RecoveryEvidence Based ResearchCancer


  • The Institute for Functional Medicine
  • Society for Integrative Oncology
  • Naturopaths and Herbalists Association of Australia
  • Australian Traditional-Medicine Society
  • British Naturopathic Association