Possible health benefits
Selenium may play a role in several aspects of human health, but scientists are still doing more clinical research to determine the nutrient’s impact.
The following sections look at some possible health benefits in more detail.
According to the ODS, selenoproteins may affect heart health by preventing the oxidative modification of lipids, or body fats. This may reduce inflammation and the buildup of platelets.
However, there is no consistent clinical evidence to suggest that the mineral lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, especially in healthy people who already get selenium from food. Some studies do indicate that people with less selenium in the blood are at higher risk of heart disease, but other studies refute this.
Selenium’s antioxidant activity may help reduce the risk of both age-related cognitive decline and impairments that result from conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
However, doctors do not yet recommend selenium for this purpose. Like with heart health, the degree of selenium’s impact on cognitive decline is still under investigation, according to studies in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and the Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology Evidence.
Selenium also has an important role in maintaining healthy thyroid function.
Studies in the International Journal of Endocrinology and Nature Reviews Endocrinology suggest that having an optimal level of selenium in the body may help prevent thyroid disorders. This could especially be true for females.
However, more research is underway to help inform how selenium supplements might support thyroid health.
Selenium’s role in DNA repair means that it may play a role in cancer prevention. However, this may depend on the type of selenium and the type of cancer a person has, according to a 2016 study.
Other studies cited in a 2018 review indicate that selenium supplements may have little effect on cancer risk.
Some studies indicate that selenium may also help prevent HIV from progressing to AIDS and reduce the risk of miscarriage.
Scientists have also suggested that selenium levels during pregnancy may be a factor in the development of childhood asthma.
However, although selenium has links with many aspects of human health, there is not enough evidence to indicate that taking selenium supplements can prevent any of these conditions.
The recommended DV for selenium is 55 mcg per day for most adults. During pregnancy, a person should consume 60 mcg, and while lactating, they should consume 70 mcg per day.
Selenium deficiency is rare worldwide, and it often takes years to develop. It usually only occurs in regions with severely low selenium content in the soil, such as several regions in China. However, according to the ODS, supplementation programs have mostly eradicated these deficiencies in the Chinese population.
Possible health risks
The upper limit for the optimal level of selenium in the body is 400 mcg for adults. It is rare for anyone to overdose on selenium, especially from selenium in food.
However, an overdose of highly concentrated supplements can have negative effects. These may include:
- a garlic-like smell on the breath and a metallic taste in the mouth
- brittle nails
- mottled or decaying teeth
- gastrointestinal problems, such as nausea
- neurological anomalies
- fatigue and irritability
- skin lesions and rashes
- hair loss
In extreme cases, selenium overdose could lead to kidney failure, heart failure, and death.
Selenium supplements can also interact with some medications, including cisplatin, which is a chemotherapy drug. The use of this drug can reduce selenium levels in the body.
Use of selenium supplements
People can get selenium through multivitamins and other dietary supplements. These may contain the mineral in different forms, including selenomethionine and sodium selenate.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025 encourage people to get their nutrients from food sources rather than supplements. Eating a varied and healthful diet is more important than concentrating on individual nutrients as the key to good health.
When taking any supplement, it is important to purchase it from a reputable source. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor supplements for quality, purity, packaging, or strength.
Selenium is a mineral that may provide different health benefits. For example, it may help with cardiovascular health, cognitive function, and thyroid health.
The optimal daily amount of selenium for most adults is 55 mcg, and selenium deficiency is rare.
People can get selenium from foods that contain it, and they can also add it to food or consume it as a supplement. However, more research is needed to determine whether or not taking selenium supplements can actually reduce disease risk or help prevent health problems.
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