Naturally found in many foods, selenium is considered to be one of the primary “essential” nutrients that the body needs. This means that the body cannot produce selenium by itself, and it is our responsibility to obtain it from dietary sources. While selenium isn’t a nutrient that is often discussed, it is a vital trace mineral that contributes to eye, joint, heart, immune, thyroid, and reproductive health.
What Is Selenium?
When it was first discovered in 1817 by a Swedish chemist, selenium was thought to be toxic. In the 1950s, scientists discovered that selenium was an essential trace mineral, and doctors began researching selenium’s tumor-fighting properties in animals by the 1960s. Selenium only needs to be consumed in small amounts, despite the large role it plays in bodily health. The recommended daily intake (RDI) for the average adult is about 55 micrograms per day, but some people require more, depending on health needs.
Where Can You Get Selenium?
Selenium is naturally available in both plant-based and animal-based foods. The selenium content of plant-based foods depends on the amount of selenium in the soil where the plants were grown. The amount of selenium in animal products depends on the selenium content of the foods the animals consumed. The selenium content of soil varies around the world, for example, both Chinese and Russian soil is naturally low in selenium. The lower selenium content may explain the high percentages of osteoarthritis and cardiomyopathy in these regions.
Why Do You Need Selenium?
Scientific studies have determined that selenium helps to reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, and cardiovascular disease. Additionally, selenium may also counteract the harmful effects of heavy metals and slow the rate of cognitive decline. Let’s explore five amazing benefits of selenium below.
Benefits The Thyroid
Selenium is necessary for a healthy thyroid gland, and this may be attributed to the fact that there is more selenium in thyroid tissue than any other organ in the body. A healthy thyroid helps to regulate metabolism and development, while an unhealthy thyroid may lead to weight gain, slow metabolism, and hormonal imbalance. Studies have shown that women with low selenium levels in the blood have an increased risk of thyroid problems. While initial research shows that selenium protects the thyroid gland from oxidative stress, more research needs to be done to understand selenium’s full effects on thyroid health.
Slows Cognitive Decline
Blood selenium levels naturally decrease with age, and scientists are researching the relationship between lower selenium levels and cognitive decline in the elderly. Some studies have revealed that people with lower blood selenium levels have an increased risk of developing cognitive troubles. Other studies have concluded that selenium may improve the memory of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Nutritional research found that people who follow a Mediterranean diet, which is comprised of high-selenium foods like nuts, oils, and seafood, have a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s.
Boosts Immune Function
Selenium is an essential trace mineral and antioxidant that plays an important role in immune health. Since antioxidants help reduce inflammation by combatting oxidative stress, it is the belief that low selenium levels contribute to reduced immune response. Selenium-rich foods may benefit people who suffer from hepatitis C, tuberculosis, and influenza.
Selenium And HIV
As we previously mentioned, selenium can help enhance immune function, and a healthy immune system is essential for combatting HIV. It is known that selenium levels drop as the HIV infection progresses, but recent studies have found that selenium supplementation may benefit HIV patients. A study in Botswana, which consisted of 878 HIV-positive people, found that daily intake of a multivitamin with selenium supplements helped slow the progression of HIV symptoms. A different study found that HIV-positive patients who took 200 micrograms of selenium per day suppressed the amount of the virus present in their blood.
Reduces Asthma Symptoms
When the airways become inflamed and narrow, one can experience symptoms like chest tightness, coughing, shortness of breath, and wheezing. Asthma patients have inflamed airways and increased levels of oxidative stress. Due to selenium’s ability to reduce inflammation, preliminary studies suggest that it may help reduce asthma-related symptoms. Since people with asthma tend to have lower blood selenium levels, it may be beneficial for asthma patients to consume more selenium-rich foods.
If your goal is to consume more selenium, it is best to obtain this mineral from plant-based foods. The following foods are excellent sources of selenium.
- Brazil nuts (1 brazil nut contains 75 mcg of selenium)
- Shiitake mushrooms (1/3 cup contains 18 mcg of selenium)
- Chia seeds (1 oz. contains 15 mcg of selenium)
- Lima & pinto beans (1 cooked cup contains 10 mcg of selenium)
- Broccoli (1 cup contains 2.5 mcg of selenium)
- Flaxseeds (2 tsp. contains 4 mcg of selenium)
- Sunflower seeds (1/4 cup contains 19 mcg of selenium)
- Brown rice (1 cup contains 19 mcg of selenium)
- Cabbage (1 cup contains 3.5 mcg of selenium)
- Spinach (1 cup contains 3 mcg of selenium)