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Selenium has an important part to play in many different processes taking place in our bodies. Did you know that your thyroid is the organ with the highest amount of selenium per gram of tissue?! (Source)
In this blog post we talk about the mineral selenium and focus on its benefits for supporting thyroid health and helping prevent different thyroid problems.
What is Selenium?
Selenium is an essential mineral that plays a key role in metabolism and many other physiological functions in your body. It is naturally found in the soil, many fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products. Selenium atomic number is 34 and the atomic symbol is Se.
Selenium exists in organic (selenomethionine and selenocysteine) and inorganic (selenate and selenite) forms. Plants convert the inorganic selenium from the soil to organic forms of selenium.
Fun fact: Your body absorbs more than 90% of selenium as selenomethionine, whereas from selenite and selenate you’ll only absorb around 50% of selenium. (Source)
What Does Selenium Do?
Selenium is most commonly used to support the thyroid health, reproductive and immune systems. So is selenium good for you? If you eat lots of fast food, sweets and not enough fruits and vegetables, you’ll probably benefit from adding selenium in your diet. Not only are fast foods low in selenium and other nutrients, consuming excess sugar and fats will actually flush good nutrients out of your body.
It can support the proper functioning of your thyroid gland by helping the thyroid properly synthesize hormones. Issues with thyroid can result in some very unpleasant symptoms like stress, constant fatigue, irritability and even thyroid diseases that need medical intervention.
Some studies have shown that selenium may be a useful addition to your diet when trying to conceive. Selenium can significantly improve sperm motility and good blood flow (Source). Furthermore, several studies have shown that supplementing with selenium reduces the risk of pre-eclampsia in pregnant women (Source). So if you’re planning to expand your family, perhaps try getting more selenium in your diet. But first make sure to consult with your doctor or health care professional!
Selenium is also widely used in manufacturing. Industrially it is used to decolorize glass, color glass red and make the pigment China Red.
Signs of Selenium Deficiency
Generally, selenium deficiency is not very common in the Western world. Chances are that you’re getting enough selenium when you’re eating a balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables and quality animal products like meat and dairy. However, if your body doesn’t absorb nutrients from food properly, you may not be getting enough selenium that your body needs for functioning. Another thing that has an effect on selenium levels in your body is your geographical location and how much selenium is found in the soil there.
Most common signs of selenium deficiency are hair loss in large amounts and all over your body, skin and nail discoloration. Also fatigue and low energy levels caused by oxidative stress or thyroid issues, hypothyroidism and other thyroid diseases. And even fertility issues in men and higher risk of miscarriage in women. Furthermore, selenium deficiency can in some cases lead to some serious health issues like Graves’ disease and Keshan disease.
Selenium deficiency alone might not cause any serious health issues. But it may lead to nutrient imbalances in your body that can actually have negative effects on your health and expose you to the risk of developing various diseases. For example, selenium deficiency will make your body lose iodine more quickly which in turn may lead to the development of iodine deficiency disorders. (Source)
Another thing to note is that you consume the exact amount of selenium that is recommended by your doctor. Especially if you already eat foods that contain high levels of selenium to prevent the selenium toxicity. Although this occurs rarely it is still important to be careful, because that as well can have negative effects on your health. Side effects of selenium intake can again be hair loss (also a symptom of selenium deficiency!), lethargy, dizziness, motor weakness and paresthesias (Source).
Selenium and Thyroid Health
Selenium plays an important role in the proper functioning of the thyroid gland. Thyroid is part of the endocrine system in your body. It produces hormones that regulate your body’s metabolic processes and growth. Selenium is essential to several enzymes, including some antioxidants that help support the thyroid to synthesize hormones. Several studies have shown that selenium does in fact have a big impact on thyroid health.
A study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism in 2015 investigated whether the prevalence of thyroid disease differed in two otherwise similar areas in China, but where the concentration of selenium in soil and crop was very different. The results showed that in the area that’s adequate in selenium, the prevalence of thyroid issues like hypothyroidism, subclinical hypothyroidism, autoimmune thyroiditis, and enlarged thyroid was significantly lower than in the low-selenium area. (Source)
Another study that was published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism in 2007 examined whether supplementing with selenium during and after pregnancy would influence the thyroidal autoimmune pattern and function. Pregnant women who are positive for thyroid peroxidase antibodies are in risk of developing thyroid dysfunction and permanent hypothyroidism after pregnancy. Over 2000 euthyroid pregnant women participated in the study, 7,9% of them were positive for thyroid peroxidase antibodies. Results showed that supplementing with selenium reduced inflammatory activity in thyroid and the occurrence of hypothyroidism. (Source)
Research conducted in France in 2003 investigated the relationship between selenium status, thyroid volume and thyroid gland echostructure. Research suggests that selenium may protect against the abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland that is also known as goiter. They concluded that selenium is related to thyroid echostructure and that it may protect against developing autoimmune thyroid disease. (Source)
Furthermore, a literature research published in 2016 in Thyroid: official journal of the American Thyroid Association identified 3366 records on the topic and after thorough assessment of the texts, picked out 16 controlled trials to include in their systematic review. The authors found that selenium can reduce the autoantibody levels in patients with chronic autoimmune thyroiditis. (Source)
An article published in the International Journal of Endocrinology in 2017 performed a thorough review of the literature on selenium’s role in thyroid function. Based on their findings, they suggest that adequate levels of selenium is essential to support thyroid health, prevent thyroid diseases and promote overall wellbeing. Results show that the most preferred form is organic selenium because of its efficiency. (Source)
How To Get Selenium and How Much Should You Take It?
As we mentioned above, if you eat a healthy and balanced diet that includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, grains and quality animal proteins, you probably are getting some selenium in your diet. Selenium rich foods are brazil nuts, seafoods like tuna, halibut, sardines and shrimps, organ meats like beef liver.
However, it is important to keep in mind that the amount of selenium in fruits, vegetables and other plant sources depends on how much selenium is found in the soil where the food is grown. Thus, you can’t be sure of the amount of selenium you get from these sources and if you unknowingly consume too much of it, you may experience adverse side effects.
If you eat a lot of processed foods, don’t eat animal products or are located somewhere with low levels in soil, you might need to add a selenium supplement to your diet. As we found out, the organic forms of selenium (selenomethionine and selenocysteine) are better absorbed by your body. By the way, NutriONN Selenium supplement is organic!
Fun Fact: selenium supplements can have a distinctive smell that some people may find unpleasant. This is because the organic form of selenium, selenomethionine, contains methionine. Methionine is also found in other smelly foods like garlic, onions etc. This amino acid can help support your liver function. (Source)
How much selenium is too much? Safe intake of selenium is around 50-400mcg (Source). We always recommend to keep an eye on your selenium intake. For example, if you’re taking a selenium supplement, do not exceed the amount stated on the bottle. But the first thing to start with would be paying a visit to your doctor and have your body’s nutrient levels tested to figure out the exact amount your body needs.
Recommended Dietary Allowance for Selenium (RDA) (Source)
|Birth to 6 months||15 mcg*||15 mcg*|
|7–12 months||20 mcg*||20 mcg*|
|1–3 years||20 mcg||20 mcg|
|4–8 years||30 mcg||30 mcg|
|9–13 years||40 mcg||40 mcg|
|14–18 years||55 mcg||55 mcg||60 mcg||70 mcg|
|19–50 years||55 mcg||55 mcg||60 mcg||70 mcg|
|51+ years||55 mcg||55 mcg|
*Adequate Intake (AI)
In conclusion, selenium has a key role in supporting thyroid health. Multiple studies have shown that selenium levels are related to different thyroid issues and diseases. But it’s also an important mineral for your overall health and wellbeing.