Selenium is an essential mineral that possess strong antioxidant properties. It’s primary role in the human body is as a component of glutathione peroxidase, an antioxidant enzyme that protects blood cells from the ravages of highly reactive free-radicals. Working synergistically with vitamin E, selenium aids in the production of antibodies, and in protecting the immune system. Selenium is required to maintain tissue elasticity, and to support the healthy functioning of the pancreas and the heart. Children suffering from Keshan’s disease, a rare heart disorder, respond well to selenium supplements, as may many adults suffering from a common form of heart disease called cardiomyopathy.
A deficiency of this vital trace element has been linked to the development of leukemia, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibrocystic breast disease. Researchers have also found that the lower the concentration of selenium in the blood stream, the higher the risk of developing cancers of the breast, lungs, ovaries, pancreas, cervix, uterus, colon and rectum. Children with Down’s Syndrome also evidence lower serum levels of selenium which is thought to result in increased free radical damage to the nerves.
The Recommended Daily Intake of selenium is 10 micrograms for infants, 70 micrograms for adults, and 75 micrograms for lactating women. Foods high in selenium include meats, seafood, brewers yeast, broccoli, grains, chicken, garlic and onions. Selenium can be toxic in amounts as little as 750 micrograms per day, causing the loss of teeth and hair, painful swelling of the fingers, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting.
SELENIUM RESEARCH UPDATE: Consumers often receive less selenium in their supplements than they think they are getting. Two hundred mcg of sodium selenate only provides about 96 mg of elemental selenium. Selenium can be toxic, but only in very high doses. Many people underdose on selenium because of unfounded fears of toxicity. In a review of the scientific literature, selenium is one of the most well documented disease preventing nutrients.
In an Italian study in the Mar. 1994 issue of Biological Trace Element Research, it was shown that when high levels of selenium were present in the drinking water there was only 1 death from coronary artery disease in males and 2 in females among 4,419 subjects studied. When selenium levels in the drinking water were reduced seven-fold, however, the death rates from coronary artery disease increased to 21 in males and 10 in females over a similar time period! The authors of the study concluded that their results are consistent with the hypothesis that selenium exerts a beneficial effect on coronary disease mortality. In a study in the April 1994 issue of Carcinogenesis, selenium and garlic produced significant anticancer activity that was superior to sodium selenite alone.