What Is Selenium and What Are Its Benefits?
Selenium sounds a bit like a recently discovered planet, but it’s actually an essential mineral vital to numerous bodily processes. While you only need small amounts of the micronutrient, selenium plays a role in functions that range from memory to immune health. Find out more about the ways this minuscule mineral has big effects on your body below.
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Health Benefits of Selenium
“Selenium is an essential trace mineral that is important for many aspects of health, including immunity, cognitive function, hormone metabolism, DNA function, and protection against oxidative damage,” say Nutrition Twins Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT explain.
1. Thyroid activity
Pound for pound, the organ with the body’s highest concentration of selenium is the thyroid, which plays roles in metabolism, cardiovascular function, growth, and sleep. Selenium is essential for the synthesis of thyroid hormones.
2. Cognitive function
3. Cardiovascular health
Getting enough selenium may help keep your heart healthy. Selenium plays a role in helping provide support to the cardiovascular system, explains Jim White, RD, ACSM EX-P, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios.
How Much Selenium Should I Get Daily?
Most healthy adults need 55 mcg of selenium per day. It’s a relatively easy number to hit through food sources, but White warns that “because selenium is predominantly found in seafood and meats, vegans and vegetarians will have to be a bit more intentional to include selenium-rich foods in the diet to meet daily needs.”
“These individuals may benefit most from a selenium supplement,” he adds. White suggests they stick with a 200 mcg selenium supplement, which ensures they’re addressing their needs but also steering clear of taking more than is recommended. And, yes, you can get too much selenium. More on that later.
Selenium needs during pregnancy
There are specific selenium benefits for women. Those who are pregnant might want to pay special attention to their intake — expectant mothers actually need more selenium than the average adult — because the micronutrient has been linked with gestational health. The National Institutes of Health recommends that pregnant and breastfeeding women get 60 mcg and 70 mcg per day, respectively.
Foods Containing Selenium
If you’re looking for easy ways to get more selenium in your daily diet, try adding some of the foods below. Brazil nuts are an easy addition, but if you’re an omnivore, you’re probably already eating foods with noteworthy selenium content.
Brazil nuts: 543 mcg | 1 oz.
Halibut: 49 mcg | 3 oz. serving, cooked
Sardines: 45 mcg | 3 oz., cooked
Pasta (51% whole wheat): 33 mcg | 1 cup, cooked (penne)
Shrimp: 32 mcg | 3 oz. serving, cooked
Oysters: 33 mcg | 3 oz. serving, cooked
Pork: 30 mcg | 3 oz. serving, cooked (loin)
Lamb: 25 mcg | 3 oz. serving, cooked
Chicken breast: 24 mcg | 3 oz. serving, cooked (skinless breast)
Ground Turkey: 26 mcg | 3 oz., cooked
Beef: 23 mcg | 3 oz. serving, cooked (flank)
Sunflower seeds: 23 mcg | 1 oz., dry roasted (without shell)
Egg: 15 mcg | 1 large
Oatmeal: 14 mcg | 1 cup, cooked
Cottage Cheese: 13 mcg | 1/2 cup
Brown Rice: 6 mcg | 1/2 cup, cooked
Lentils: 3 mcg | 1/2 cup, cooked
Are There Any Risks Associated With Taking a Selenium Supplement?
“Typically, there aren’t side effects when consuming normal amounts of selenium,” Lakatos and Lakatos Shames explain. The problems arise when adults get more than the “tolerable upper intake level of 400 micrograms a day. “Anything above that is considered an overdose.” But they underscore that you can — and ideally should — get your selenium mostly from natural food sources, which decreases the odds that your intake will creep past this mark.
Signs of excess selenium include:
- Bad breath
- Muscle and/or joint pain
- Hair loss
- Finger and toenail abnormalities
- Memory loss
It’s important to note that the potential for getting more that you need doesn’t result solely from selenium consumed in supplement form. Brazil nuts are an excellent source of selenium, and if eaten regularly, can also result in getting too much, White warns. Two Brazil nuts a day get you close to 200 micrograms. That’s about what you get with most supplements, and is considered a healthy serving.
Should You Take Selenium?
Omnivores should have no problem hitting their suggested daily value of this essential mineral. But vegans and vegetarians might want to consider a supplement if carefully planning their diet doesn’t work.
- Acute Selenium Toxicity Associated with a Dietary Supplement www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3225252/
- Fooddata Central Search Results fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170569/nutrients
- Office Of Dietary Supplements - Selenium ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Selenium-Consumer/
- The Role Of Selenium in Human Conception and Pregnancy www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0946672X14001345
- Nutritional Status, Oxidative Stress and Dementia: the Role Of Selenium in Alzheimer's Disease www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4147716/
- Selenium and Thyroid Disease: From Pathophysiology To Treatment www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5307254/