Diet Health

Selenium: everything you need to know

Selenium is an element that is not talked about much, although it plays a very important role in various functions of the body. It is worth knowing a little more about it.

Selenium: everything you need to know

Selenium is a mineral that is essential for the proper functioning of the human body. It is obtained naturally through some foods. It has, above all, antioxidant properties. It also acts positively on thyroid function and fat metabolism.

Consuming selenium in adequate amounts has been associated with protection against infection. There is also data to suggest that it might help prevent and slow cancer, but there is still no conclusive evidence for this.

Selenium function

Selenium: everything you need to know

Selenium is a mineral with antioxidant properties.

Selenium is listed as a trace mineral. This name is given to the chemical elements that are present in small amounts within cells and that play a fundamental role in metabolism.

This element helps the body to produce antioxidant enzymes, substances that contribute to the prevention of cell damage. For this reason, it is believed, even without conclusive evidence, that it would help prevent the appearance of certain types of cancer. This theory is currently under study.

There are also not enough studies on its benefits for reproduction, but it is believed that it could improve fertility, especially in men. This element appears to increase semen production and motility.

Selenium would also protect the body from poisoning with heavy metals and other harmful substances. It would also help to take care of the body after a vaccination. However, more research still needs to be done to corroborate its functions and properties.

What happens in the body when there is a selenium deficiency?

There is research that low amounts of selenium are associated with cancer. However, there is also a study that showed that taking selenium supplements did not prevent the development of new cancers.

In some areas of China, a relationship between low selenium levels and Keshan disease, a myocardial disease, has been detected. Also in China, and also in Russia, it is associated with Kashin-Beck disease, a degenerative involvement of bones and joints.

Some research indicates that selenium deficiency may play a role in the development of goiter and hypothyroidism. On the other hand, those who receive parenteral nutrition (that is, intravenously) seem to develop a deficiency of this element. This is accompanied by muscle pain with sensitivity to touch.

Symptoms of selenium deficiency

It is believed that up to half the population could be deficient in selenium. This is partly due to the fact that this mineral is not very well known and therefore not given the importance it deserves. Symptoms of deficit cited by the National Institutes of Health include the following:

Hair loss. If it is produced fairly quickly and is evenly distributed, it may be due to a deficit of selenium.
Weak nails and skin. The skin would turn pale and the nails would have half-moons of an intense white color.
Tiredness and muscle weakness. Selenium deficiency would cause excess oxidation and the effect of this is the feeling of weakness in the muscles and fatigue.
To feel down. A study published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience pointed out that low levels of this mineral would translate into anxiety and low mood.
Mental confusion. It could manifest as memory difficulties, trouble concentrating, and a lack of mental clarity.
Thyroid disorders. Selenium deficiency would contribute to abnormalities in this gland.

What happens in the body when there is excess selenium?

Just as being low in selenium is inconvenient, so is having too much of it. In high amounts it could become a toxic substance, according to an article titled Acute Selenium Toxicity Associated With a Dietary Supplement. This is very rare, but it can happen.

Many times the excess of selenium is the result of the inadequate ingestion of supplements of that mineral. Other times it is due to an unbalanced diet, although it is very rare that it alone generates high levels of this element.

There is a small amount of selenium in drinking water. Likewise, this element can be found in particles that float in the air, such as earth or dust, in places where there is a high concentration of this mineral.

Symptoms of excess of this mineral in the body

Excess selenium would cause very rapid hair loss. This is usually the most obvious symptom and also the most typical. Likewise, there would be alterations in the nails, fatigue, skin rashes and neurological problems.

A striking aspect is that when there is an excess of this element, the breath smells of garlic. In addition, people perceive a metallic taste in the mouth and nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are common.

It is not known whether it can affect human reproduction in the long term, but it does in rats. In the most severe cases, high levels of selenium cause shortness of breath, tremor, kidney failure, heart failure, and heart attacks.

Selenium sources

Selenium: everything you need to know

Selenium is present in a wide variety of foods such as fish, chicken or eggs.

Selenium is found naturally in many foods. However, the exact amount of this mineral in food depends on the volume of this element in the earth, in the case of vegetables. In the case of animals, it also depends on the volume of selenium that they have consumed.

The main sources of selenium are the following:

Fish, seafood and red meat.
Eggs and chicken.
Canned liver and tuna.
Brazil nuts and pine nuts.
Grains, whole grains and brewer’s yeast.
Wheat germ, wheat flour and pasta.
Vegetables and greens.
Selenium can also be found in supplement form. However, you should consult your doctor before ingesting these types of products. People with HIV and those on kidney dialysis are often deficient in this mineral.

Respect the recommended daily doses

The amount of selenium that should be ingested per day, in an average adult, is 55 micrograms. In children 0 to 6 months, 15 micrograms; 7 months to 30 years, 20 micrograms; 4-8 years, 30 micrograms; ages 9 to 13, 40 micrograms. Pregnant women should ingest 60 micrograms per day and lactating women, 70.

If there are doubts about the level of selenium in the body, it is best to discuss it with your doctor. Clinical tests in this regard are unreliable, so it is best to adjust your diet.

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