Selenium is an essential trace element that protects and nourishes each of our 50 trillion cells. It’s absolutely vital to our physical and mental well-being. Though due to a variety of factors including food-processing techniques, nutrient-depleted soils, increased nutritional requirements, and environmental antagonists such as mercury and glyphosate – many of us are not getting what our body needs for optimal health and well-being.
Symptoms of Selenium Deficiency
- Chronic fatigue
- Brain fog
- Depressed immune system
- Frequent infections
- Skin problems
- Muscle weakness and soreness
I was first introduced to selenium over 30 years ago, at the ripe old age of 14. At the time, I was trying to heal a chronic skin rash, and reading everything I could get my hands-on concerning nutrition and nutrient therapeutics (i.e. orthomolecular medicine). Its main tenet is that when the body receives all of the nutrients it requires, optimal health is the result. And, every individual is unique and has unique metabolic and nutritional requirements. For example, one person may need “x” amount of a particular nutrient per day to feel good and function optimally, whereas another person my need “2-3x” of this same nutrient to stay healthy due to genetic differences, different environments, level of stress in their daily lives, quality of sleep, and diet. If the body doesn’t receive what it needs, dis-ease can result, and can likewise be reversed when the body receives an adequate supply of the nutrient. This brings me to the point of this article.
Let’s say that you get 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night, exercise daily, and eat a predominantly healthy, whole-food diet, but in spite of doing “all of the right things” you’ve been feeling unusually tired, with a low mood, difficulty concentrating, and brain fog.
You take a high-quality multivitamin every day, which has 100% of the RDA for all of the essential vitamins and minerals, as well as taking extra vitamin D3/K2, magnesium, and fish oils, yet you just feel like there’s something you may be missing, or simply not getting enough of.
Well, this is more common than you think, and just happened to me.
I’ve been taking a selenium supplement since I was in high school and increased it any time I was feeling tired or rundown and needed some additional nutritional support. Well, the past several months, I decided to try something different and thought I could get the majority of my selenium from food. Well, let’s just say I learned the hard way that I need a bit more than what my well-balanced diet plus multivitamin (with the RDA for selenium) had to offer.
Why the Current RDA for Selenium is Insufficient
The current RDA of 55-70 mcg per day is based on the amount of selenium necessary to optimize the selenoenzyme, glutathione peroxidase (GPx). The problem is that this isn’t the only selenoenzyme, and another very important one, thioredoxin reductase, requires a good deal more – in the range of 200-400 mcg per day – for optimal activity.
I recommend listening to this excellent interview with one of the world’s top trace mineral researchers and medicinal chemists, UCSD Professor Emeritus, Dr. Gerhard Schrauzer discussing the optimal level of selenium for its many benefits, and protective functions in the human body.
A Powerful Antioxidant, Energy-Producing Nutrient
Selenium is essential in maintaining optimal levels of the energy-producing (mitochondrial nutrient), antioxidant ubiquinone – as known as Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) – which is needed to create the energy currency (ATP) for every organ, muscle fiber, brain cell, and tissue in the human body.
Selenium is also well-known for its role in the production of the antioxidant enzymes glutathione S-transferase (GST), glutathione peroxidase (GPx), and a family of selenoenzymes called thioredoxin reductases which regenerate oxidized cellular antioxidants such as ubiquinone (CoQ10), alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), and vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol). Selenium and its role as a cardio-, neuro-, and hepato-protective nutrient is well-established, but less is widely known concerning its importance in protecting your body reserves of CoQ10. What we do know is this – a selenium deficiency can produce significant depletion of coenzyme Q10 levels in the heart and liver. A study published in 1993 by Vadhanavikit and Ganther – found a 15% reduction of coenzyme Q10 in the heart, and a 50% reduction of coenzyme Q10 in the liver in selenium deficient animals tested. What this means is that a selenium deficiency can produce a CoQ10 deficiency, which is a big deal, if having plentiful energy, mental and physical endurance, strong muscles, and a healthy immune system are important to you.
Protection Against Heavy Metals
Due to the number of selenium antagonists in our food and environment (e.g. mercury, arsenic, glyphosate), which effectively increase our requirement for this trace element, we need a little extra in “reserve” to maximize its protective effects and prevent a deficiency. In other words, it’s important that we maintain a surplus of selenium to effectively neutralize mercury and other toxins, and have some leftover for essential biological processes. Selenium supplementation has been shown to protect against the toxic effects of number of chemicals and heavy metals including bisphenol-A (BPA), arsenic, mercury, cadmium, lead, and fluoride overexposure.
Benefits of Optimal Selenium Intake
- Maintains optimal levels of CoQ10 necessary for healthy mitochondrial energy production
- 200-400 mcg* per day of selenium is essential for optimal immune system function
- Possesses powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity
- Essential for healthy thyroid function (T4 à T3 conversion)
- Increases the brain-nourishing growth factor, BDNF
- Promotes neurogenesis (i.e. formation of new brain cells)
- Promotes mercury elimination
- Protects against heavy metals
- Protects against excess fluoride**
- Prevents cognitive decline
* The optimal dose is a function of body weight and your individual nutritional needs. Brazil nuts are nature’s richest source of selenium providing on average 45-100 mcg/nut, though since soil concentrations of the mineral can vary considerably, a 10-fold difference (10-100 mcg/nut) in selenium levels can exist between different sources, so to make sure you’re getting a known and reliable level of selenium every day, it’s recommended that your multivitamin or nutritional supplement provide you with 100-300 mcg/d (at the higher end of the range if you weigh >150 lbs since nutritional doses are based on weight, current nutritional status, heavy metal exposure, and individual nutritional needs).
** Studies also suggest that selenium may protect the brain from high levels of fluoride, and prevent the behavioral and morphological changes associated with excess fluoride exposure. Considering many of us live in cities where the water is fluoridated, and also use fluoridated toothpaste, taking additional selenium (100-200 mcg/day) for all of its many benefits – is a wise addition for keeping you strong and healthy.
Best Nutritional Forms of Selenium
Selenium is available in both inorganic and organic forms as a dietary supplement. Sodium selenite and sodium selenate are the two most common inorganic forms. Sodium selenate is well-absorbed, thought a significant amount is excreted in the urine before it’s utilized by the body. While, only about 1/2 of a dose of sodium selenite is absorbed but its better retained than selenate.
The most common organic forms are selenomethionine, selenocysteine, high-selenium yeast, selenium amino acid chelate, and selenium glycinate (found in our HempMag COOLDOWN™ nutritional supplement) which display greater absorption, retention, and bioavailability than inorganic forms of the mineral.
With respect to the organic forms of the mineral, selenomethionine is approximately 90% absorbed, though only about 34% of this may be converted to free selenomethionine for production of selenoproteins. So, if you’re taking a supplement containing 200 mcg of selenomethionine, the amount of selenium available for biological processes would be only about 61 mcg. Compare this to selenium glycinate, which due to its small size, low ionizability, neutral charge and stability, has excellent bioavailability (based on studies of other glycinates; e.g. zinc glycinate) and can be directly utilized for the synthesis of selenoproteins.
Maintaining optimal selenium levels helps support a positive mood, healthy skin, healthy brain function, energy production, improves antioxidant status (quenches free-radicals), and promotes inflammatory balance and a strong immune system.
Now the Question Is Are You Consuming Enough?
A simple way to check this is to add a little extra to your diet for a week or two and see if you notice a difference in the following areas: energy, mood, cognitive function, the health of your skin, muscle soreness after exercise, and physical and mental stamina. The easiest way to determine if you’re deficient, is just to take a little extra and see if you notice a difference.
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Selenium content of various foods:
Selenium and its role in healthy brain function, and mood-boosting effects:
Benton D. Selenium intake, mood and other aspects of psychological functioning. Nutr Neurosci. 2002 Dec;5(6):363-74.
Benton D, Cook R. The impact of selenium supplementation on mood. Biol Psychiatry. 1991 Jun 1;29(11):1092-8.
Chen J, Berry MJ. Selenium and selenoproteins in the brain and brain diseases. J Neurochem. 2003 Jul;86(1):1-12.
The importance of selenium in maintaining healthy Coenzyme Q10 levels
Vadhanavikit S. H.E. Ganther. Selenium deficiency and decreased Coenzyme Q levels. Molecular Aspects of Medicine. Volume 15, Supplement 1, 1994, Pages s103-s107.
Vadhanavikit S, Ganther HE. Decreased ubiquinone levels in tissues of rats deficient in selenium. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 1993 Feb 15;190(3):921-6.
Selenium deficiency and thyroid function: