The Greek word “selene” means moon, and that’s where the trace mineral selenium gets its name. It was discovered in Sweden in the year 1817. If you’re a man thinking of selenium, think of it as a natural remedy for your prostate. And if you’re a woman, think about thyroid and breasts. It’s required for reproductive health for both men and women. Selenium is important if you take a cholesterol medication, and I’ll get to that shortly.
Selenium is considered a nonmetal, even though it’s similar to magnesium in so many ways. But magnesium is a metal, the lightest of all metals actually. Selenium can come in different colors and textures in its natural form. When you take it as a supplement, you are taking it bound to another compound so it’s digestible.
The most interesting part of selenium is that it’s sometimes used in dyes and paints to color things red. Selenium is found in the waters of our planet, including the Dead Sea.
Plants growing on Earth take up selenium into their roots. They get it from the soil and then it’s put into the food chain, and we obtain it through diet. Selenomethionine is a high-quality form of selenium that is a naturally occurring amino acid.* The selenium mineral is bound to the amino acid “methionine” and these are sold by capsules. It’s the main form of selenium that occurs in Brazil nuts, cereal grains and soybeans. Why would anyone want to supplement with selenium, or eat more of it from dietary sources?
The main reason would be selenium’s powerful antioxidant properties. It helps neutralize free radicals. In other words, it helps reduce oxidative damage through several different mechanisms, the main one is by recycling glutathione, a strong antioxidant. You have another enzyme in your body that breaks down hydrogen peroxide, it’s called Catalase. Both catalase and glutathione Peroxidase require selenium as part of their molecular structure (in their core anatomy) in order to function properly and keep you healthy!
Both of those enzymes are major players in terms of detoxification. You’d die within minutes without them. So a selenium deficiency over time, can lead to suppressed antioxidant activity due to the low levels of glutathione and catalase. And when you have poor antioxidant protection, you’re more susceptible to DNA damage which leads to cancer.
But there are 6 other mind-blowing reasons that I’ve found out about while scouring the scientific literature:
1. Selenium may help with breast cancer outcomes.
Aside from selenium being a strong antioxidant which is useful in cancer situation, there is new research published in the journal, Nutrients (May 2019). Apparently, selenium is capable of alleviating lymphedema that is commonly associated with breast cancer. Lymphedema simply refers to the swelling that occurs in the arms and legs.
It is frequently caused when there is damage to (or removal of) a lymph node. This may occur during cancer treatment and some women are at higher risk than others. Selenium supplementation was given to some participants during a randomized, double-blind trial. There was a control group too, they did not receive selenium.
It’s astounding to note that 75 percent of participants showed improvement in their swelling at just 2 weeks, compared to baseline. There was no change in the control group. So if there is lymph node damage, and related swelling it may be wise to have a conversation with your doctor and see if you can supplement with selenium. What more relevant to me, is that this profound anti-inflammatory and immunosupportive action (remember it took just 2 weeks!) was completely independent of selenium’s antioxidant capabilities!
For more information on the anti-caner benefits of selenium, CLICK HERE to read this Elsevier article about its protective role in various cancers and tumors.
2. Selenium helps with brain function.*
The ability to neutralize oxidants which attack the brain helps reduce your personal risk of cognitive decline. The brain is one of the last organs to run out of selenium, it is well preserved in the brain tissue for a long time, even if the body gets slowly depleted. But changes in selenium levels (in the blood and brain) have been seen in people with Alzheimer’s disease and brain tumors.
Several selenium-derived proteins termed “selenoproteins” are expressed in brain, but no one is 100 certain of their specific function in neurons. We do know that glutathione and catalase are seen in glial cells, which are comforting and nourishing cells that surround and cuddle your nerve cells. Glial cells feed and protect nerve cells, and selenium is needed to keep those cells healthy.
3. Selenium and hemochromatosis.*
A genetic condition, overload of iron is sometimes misdiagnosed and inadequately treated. There’s an association with selenium deficiency according to this STUDY. Iron concentrations were slightly higher (up to 2 and a half times higher) in selenium deficient rodents. The “Transferrin Saturation” with iron was almost twice as high in selenium deficient rodents, compared to those with normal levels of selenium.
It suggests that a little bit of selenium might help with hemochromatosis, and other imbalanced minerals (ie low iodine, low magnesium) but don’t supplement unless you speak to your physician and gain approval.
4. Selenium is needed to make thyroid hormone.*
There is some evidence that women with normal levels of selenium experience fewer thyroid problems, especially those related to Hashimoto’s. Selenium has been shown to reduce TPO Antibodies.
Selenium has been shown in several clinical trials over the past few decades to slow the progression of, and reduce symptoms of thyroid illness. It’s needed for the “deiodinase” enzymes that convert inactive thyroxine T4 to biologically active T3.
Interestingly, selenium is depleted by countless drugs. I call it drug mugging! (I have a book about that called Drug Muggers if you CLICK HERE).
If you don’t have a copy of this no problem, I’ll tell you a handful of the most popular meds that can rob selenium. The mineral is wiped out by over 25 popular medications including the antacids, reflux drugs and statins.
5. Muscle Pain or Cramps.
Statin drugs account for one of the biggest global categories of medications ever sold. EVER! But it’s a bit of a secret that statin cholesterol drugs can deplete selenium over time. This could lead to prostate problems for men, and more commonly leg cramps, muscle pain, muscle weakness and back pain. Depleting selenium also means you can’t make thyroid hormone so refer back up to #4 and read about that.
This section is devoted to selenium deficiency, induced by statins, which is not common knowledge. It’s mind-blowing to think about the millions of people out there suffering from the side effects of this medication, and for pennies a day, they could possibly get help! It’s true, the literature has this documented as far back as 2004.
In 2004, there was an article published in The Lancet, and they found that the muscle problems associated with statins looked eerily similar to the pathology associated with selenium deficiency. Statin-induced myopathy is caused in part due to the negative impact on the “isopentenylation” of amino acid bound from of selenium (selenocysteine).
In other words, muscle aches, pains and spasms that are induced by statins might be received by a little bit of selenium (100 – 200 mcg daily or every other day) and Coenzyme Q10 (200 mg daily). This combination is worth a try if you absolutely need these medications, and they cause you muscle problems but, please ask your doctor if my suggested dosages are correct for you, and if this combination will be okay with your prescription medications.
Selenium is needed to balance the body, and balance excess thyroid activity as seen with hyperthyroidism or Graves’ disease. Selenium might help with Graves’ ophthalmopathy or orbitopathy. This is sometimes termed thyroid eye disease, and it’s characterized by retraction of the upper eyelid(s) and swelling, redness and conjunctivitis and more. Selenium can help, the amount of which you need is very individual. I can’t give you a dosage.
Inflammation is suppressed with selenium that’s why it helps with the autoimmune related eye problems and antibodies. Too many inflammatory cytokines and free radicals in your system will cause your thyroid hormone to become lazy so to speak, and never penetrate the cells. That’s where you need thyroid hormone. You need it inside your cells, not outside in your blood stream.
It’s the intracellular area where T3 actually does its best work to make you feel and look your very best. In other words, it’s completely impossible to have healthy thyroid function without adequate amounts of selenium. It’s also impossible to produce thyroid hormone without selenium. Finally, it’s ideal for your antibodies (immune function) to have enough selenium on board otherwise your TPO levels will be very high.
6. Selenium for PCOS.
Polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS is a very common problem in women and we know that excessive amounts of androgen hormones are part of the etiology. We also know it goes hand in hand with insulin resistance. Selenium has insulin-like properties so it helps. When you think of insulin resistance, think diabetes.
Most women don’t realize that this plain mineral is so strong it might help with PCOS too! I’m not saying selenium will cure PCOS or insulin resistance, I’m saying it could help. There were two case-control studies in the past that I dug up in the literature and both showed that women with PCOS were deficient in selenium.
There is a new article in Molecules (April 2019) called “A Low Glycemic Index Decreases Inflammation by Increasing the Concentration of Uric Acid and the Activity of Glutathione Peroxidase (GPx3) in Patients with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.” This study involved 49 women who were diagnosed with PCOS and supplemented with selenium. At the end of the trial, researchers noted a lower concentration of glutathione in women with PCOS.
Recall from earlier when I told you that glutathione cannot be made without selenium. So it makes sense that selenium deficiency leads to glutathione deficiency, right? There was a higher level of uric acid too, which isn’t really good. High uric acid translates to other issues like pain, arthritis, kidney stones and gout in the body.
Hypothyroidism can be caused by selenium deficiency, because remember, thyroid hormone can’t be made without it. And as you might have guessed, PCOS is more likely to occur in the hypothyroid population and those with Hashimoto’s compared to the general population. There’s a definite correlation between low selenium leading to hypothyroidism, leading to PCOS. Labs don’t pick it up usually. Please grab a copy of my best-seller, Thyroid Healthy: Lose Weight, Look Beautiful and Live the Life You Imagine.
Taking too much selenium can cause selenosis, which is dangerous. It can cause hair loss, nail problems, nausea and vomiting, anxiety, cardiac arrhythmias, restlessness, weakness and nerve damage.
As for supplementation, there was a comparison of different forms of dietary supplements and the results were published in Biological Trace Element Research many years ago. Selenomethionine supplementation significantly increased glutathione concentration in the liver and breast muscle. This outperformed sodium selenite.
Always look for high-quality supplements and reputable brands? You can look online, or at your local health food store, or ask your holistic physician or PA. The dosage varies, most of the time it is something between 50 mcg and 200 mcg per day. Sometimes, people take 200 mcg twice a day but this usually includes food sources.
If you test your selenium levels and find that they are low, or if you have elevated TPO antibodies (a sign of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis), you probably need a little extra selenium for a few weeks or months. Since I’m not a physician, and I can’t prescribe for you, please ask your physician if it’s right for you. If you do begin selenium, I suggest the more natural food-based form called selenomethionine.
CLICK HERE to see my Selenium formulation.
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.