By Dr. Kaycee Reyes
Nuts, beef, poultry, and fish—what do these foods have in common? All of them contain selenium! You may not notice its effect on our bodies, but along with other minerals, it plays a significant role to keep us healthy. While selenium is not produced by our body, it activates selenium-dependent enzymes, or selenoproteins that perform important functions essential for our health, including thyroid function, reproduction, DNA production, and even for prevention of infection and disease! Let’s find out how this micronutrient can help us in a lot of ways.
Selenium is a chemical element with symbol SE. It was first discovered by Swedish chemist Jöns Jacob Berzeliusin 1817. Selenium is a micronutrient, or a nutrient required by our body only in small amounts to perform various bodily functions properly, usually in milligrams or micrograms. As mentioned above, selenium can easily be found in a lot of foods, such as Brazil nuts, eggs, seafood, meat, poultry, dairy, breads, and grains. The selenium content in plants depends on how selenium-rich the soil was, and for animals, it depends on how much selenium was in the food that they consumed. Selenium has been reported to:
- Have a possibly lower risk of certain cancers such as colon, prostate, lung, bladder, skin, esophagus, and stomach cancers.
- Have a possibly lower risk of cardiovascular disease
- Have possibly better mental function in old age
- Have possibly lower risk of thyroid problems
- Have powerful antioxidant properties that fight free radicals to avoid inflammation that can lead to infection and disease
- Have antiviral effects that can help with reproduction
- Help relieve asthma symptoms
Since a lot of foods contain selenium, only those who are hospitalized, those who have malnutrition, those who have special diets, or have chronic illness such as HIV are possible to be selenium-deficient. In the rare cases that one is deficient, it can cause heart problems such as Keshan disease, joint problems such as Kashen-Beck disease, or infertility. Too much of this micronutrient, however, may cause some problems, too. Bad breath, diarrhea, skin rashes, and hair loss, to more serious problems such as tremors, kidney, and heart problems may all present itself if one consumes too much. This is why it is important to note that teens and adults require only around 50 mcg of selenium, while children ages 13 and below only require around 40 mcg or lower, depending on age. Pregnant women and breastfeeding women may require a slightly higher dosage.
It is amazing how our body works, and even more when you find out that even the smallest minerals play big roles in ensuring optimal health. If you are not sure that you are getting adequate amounts, you may talk to your physician for possible supplementation. Note, however, that selenium may also interfere with your current medications, such as anticoagulant or antiplatelet drugs, and birth control pills among others may affect the effectiveness of each drug or medication if taken alongside selenium. If you do not have any health risks, eating healthy and keeping a balanced diet is all it takes to get enough of this supercharged micronutrient. All in all, one thing is for sure: Selenium is a micronutrient that should be taken seriously.