The Little-Known Benefits of Selenium
Selenium is a trace element found in soil and certain plants. It is also found in poultry, eggs, and fish. Selenium finds its way into our diet by means of the food we eat. The problem, however, is that selenium has been leached out of the soil in many farming communities over the years. This effect is seen across the globe. When there is too little selenium in the diet, the consequences can be serious. However, first, we need to understand the benefits of selenium.
The Benefits of Selenium in Our Diet
The benefits of selenium help your whole body system, from hormonal health to fighting cancer.
Many studies have shown the thyroid gland needs iodine in order to function correctly. However, next to iodine, selenium may be the second most important mineral.
Numerous studies have indicated a strong link between selenium and thyroid function. It seems that a selenium deficiency is one of the contributors to low thyroid function. The reason for this is that selenium is one of the catalysts in the production of thyroid hormones. When your thyroid hormones become unbalanced, it has an impact on your entire body, affecting all aspects of body function, including your weight, sleep, appetite, temperature, and your energy levels.
One of the benefits of selenium for the thyroid is the role it plays in thyroid hormone synthesis. It also helps to regulate the production of reactive oxygen in the thyroid gland and protects it from certain antibodies that might instigate thyroid conditions. Interestingly, the body’s highest selenium concentration is found in the thyroid, followed by the brain. With regards to brain function, there is a strong possibility that a selenium shortage may be associated with cognitive decline.
Research shows that, when selenium levels are low in the thyroid gland, even if iodine levels are high, the thyroid gland becomes severely compromised. When both iodine and selenium levels are low, you also stand a higher risk of thyroid damage and developing a goiter.
Proper sperm mobility and increased blood flow in males are dependent on selenium. These are both involved in conception. Selenium may also affect the behavior and function of sperm as it makes its way towards a woman’s ovum because it is incorporated into the mitochondria found in each sperm cell.
Men do need to be wary of the possibility that taking selenium supplements could lead to an overly high sperm selenium concentration, as too much selenium may also have a negative effect on a male’s fertility. The aim is for a balance.
Although most studies regarding the benefits of selenium for fertility have been focused on males, there are indications that a selenium deficiency may also be one of the issues related to miscarriages. The strong antioxidant power of selenium may protect a woman’s eggs and a fetus from free radicals. No studies have as yet indicated that a selenium supplement could boost a woman’s fertility, however.
Antioxidant and Cancer-Fighter
One of the system-wide benefits of selenium is its strong antioxidant properties and its ability to fight oxidative stress. Selenium works together with other antioxidants, such as vitamin E, to help your body fight against oxidative stress. This means it helps prevent the degradation of cells, mutations, and possible DNA damage. In this way, selenium may help combat some of the symptoms associated with aging.
Because of its ability to fight free radicals, and its cell and DNA activity, selenium may help prevent cancer, according to various studies. Cancers targeted with positive results include lung, colorectal, liver, and prostate cancer. Evidence also suggests that, besides targeting the first indications of cancer formation, selenium may also slow down the growth of existing tumors and delay cancer progression.
Interestingly, studies indicate that the incidence of cancer is higher in those areas of the world with low selenium levels in the soil.
Although studies are not 100% conclusive, they do show that the benefits of selenium do reach to the body’s immune system. It may also be of great value in fighting viruses. Indications suggest that the benefits of selenium may help to slow the progression of HIV into full-blown AIDS.
Concurrent with this, studies also indicate that selenium modulates inflammation throughout the body.
There are indications that people with asthma who take selenium supplements tend to have fewer asthma attacks. This indicates that selenium supplements may be useful for those who suffer from chronic asthma.
Selenium and Hormone Balance in the Body
Keeping your hormones in a state of balance is important for your overall health. Unfortunately, when adrenal fatigue sets in, and your cortisol levels become out of whack, it has a cascading effect on hormone production throughout the entire body. Your thyroid hormones are thus also affected.
Increased cortisol production by the adrenal glands is usually the result of stress, with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis kickstarting the process. The body’s response to this is known as the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response, with all systems deemed unnecessary for immediate survival either slowing down or being switched off. Long-term stress means that the NEM stays active indefinitely, with the coresponding effects on your body possibly escalating. This process of escalation may happen quickly or take years, as the corresponding symptoms increase in number and intensity.
Common symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:
- Constant fatigue
- Anxiety or depression
- Immune system issues
- Blood sugar issues
- A compromised inflammatory response and associated conditions
- Sleep issues
- Hormonal issues such as lowered sex drive or infertility issues
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Heart palpitations and heart conditions
- Brain fog
As time goes by, your adrenal glands can find it increasingly difficult to supply the cortisol demanded by your body. At some point, the adrenals become worn out and start producing less. Too little cortisol is just as bad as too much cortisol, and both affect your body’s diverse hormone production.
Besides having a positive effect on your body’s thyroid hormone production and thyroid health, research indicates that one of the benefits of selenium is that it may have a moderating effect on cortisol production. Although the study has thus far only been conducted on cattle, future studies may include humans and give the same positive outcome.
Incorporating Selenium in the Diet
Selenium is incorporated into the diet by means of plant matter, whether directly or indirectly. This means that you can get it from eating protein as well because plant-eating animals also gain their selenium from their diet.
Foods that have relatively high selenium content include fish, poultry, beef, and lamb liver; eggs; nuts and seeds such as brazil nuts, chia seeds, and sunflower seeds; and mushrooms.
Do not forget, however, that the amount of selenium derived from food sources is largely dependent on the trace element percentage present in the soil in which it grows. Sufferers of AFS must exercise care when taking selenium which may be more than what the body can handle. The weaker the body, the greater the risk. Adrenal crashes may happen. Always check with an AFS-literate practitioner prior to beginning.
While studies on the effect of selenium on the human body are still ongoing, this trace element seems to be increasingly associated with overall well-being. Supplementing with selenium may very well be one of the ways in which we could help our bodies prevent, or overcome, numerous health conditions.
If you are thinking about taking selenium as a supplement, you do need to realize that too much selenium in your body may have just as many negative consequences as too little. For example, an overdose of this trace element may result in a fever, nausea, halitosis, and even liver issues. Selenium toxicity, however, is very rare, and those usually affected are people who use extreme doses in supplement form. Abnormally high doses could lead to selenium toxicity, which could result in hypoventilation, where you have difficulty in breathing, or in a heart attack. Make sure to ask your doctor before starting a supplement like selenium.
© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
Dr. Lam’s Key Question
Do the benefits of selenium include adrenal health?
Studies into the health benefits of selenium are still ongoing and nothing is, as yet, conclusive. The evidence thus far, however, shows positive results in using selenium to address certain conditions associated with adrenal fatigue, such as low thyroid function, and animal studies suggest it may help regulate cortisol.
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