Selenium Deficiency – Cause Of Many Complaints

Selenium deficiency is widespread in Germany with its selenium-poor soils. Climate change amplifies the problem even further. Since selenium is indispensable as an important antioxidant for the body’s own detoxification and can also bind and eliminate heavy metals, a selenium deficiency should be avoided.

Selenium deficiency is widespread

Selenium is an essential trace element. It is therefore only required in traces, which should, however, be recorded regularly. Essential means that selenium must be supplied with food, i.e. the body cannot produce selenium itself.

But that is precisely what is a problem in some regions of the world – e.g. in Germany and many other European countries. The soil here is so low in selenium that farmers also have to feed their livestock selenium-enriched feed or fertilize the grassland with selenium to avoid deficiency symptoms.

Fertilizers containing selenium have been used regularly in Finland since the 1980s because of the selenium-poor soils. This is not yet routinely the case in Germany.

Selenium deficiency increases with climate change

In the past, one-sided fertilization habits (fertilizers containing sulfate) in particular contributed to the selenium deficiency in the soil. Heavy rainfall, which is becoming more and more frequent in the course of climate change, also washes selenium out of the ground. At the same time, there are persistent dry periods, which is also unfavorable, since moist soil can retain selenium better.

If there are heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium, aluminum, lead, and arsenic in the soil (especially in industrial centers and metropolitan areas), then selenium binds to the heavy metals, resulting in a poorly soluble selenium complex. Under other conditions, the ability to bind heavy metals is an extremely valuable property of selenium – for example in the human body.

In the soil, however, this ability to form complexes is rather disadvantageous with regard to human selenium supply, since the plant can no longer utilize the selenium in this bound form and therefore cannot pass it on to humans. A selenium deficiency is therefore far more common today than is generally assumed.

Selenium is essential for health

Selenium is found in varying concentrations in all organs and tissues of our body. The liver, kidneys, heart, pancreas, spleen, brain, eyes, testicles, red blood cells, and platelets contain larger amounts of selenium. However, at around 40 percent, the largest proportion of selenium is stored in the skeletal muscles.

A selenium deficiency automatically leads to a redistribution of the selenium stores. The little that is available is now preferentially built into those tissues and organs that serve to maintain important bodily functions.

These primarily include the pituitary, pineal, thyroid, parathyroid, pancreas, and adrenal glands.

But the reproductive organs and the central nervous system must also be supplied with selenium in order to be able to function properly.

This fact makes it clear how important the trace element selenium is to maintaining the health of the body, despite the minimal amounts required.

As an antioxidant, selenium protects all cells

Selenium is one of the important antioxidants that protect the body from dangerous free radicals. Free radicals first attack the cell walls, get inside the cell and finally destroy the entire cell.

This is the beginning of various diseases. Eye diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer are just as important as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s (caused by free radical attacks on nerve cells), Alzheimer’s (when brain cells are attacked), and many others.

Illnesses that are associated with chronic inflammatory processes, such as arthritis, ulcerative colitis, thyroid inflammation, etc., are kept going by free radicals, as they repeatedly trigger new flare-ups of inflammation.

Selenium in cancer prevention

Selenium, as an essential component of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase – a particularly strong antioxidant – is considered to be extremely effective in protecting against cancer.

Glutathione peroxidase primarily ensures within the cell that free radicals are intercepted in good time before they can destroy the life-sustaining genes. In this way, selenium also prevents the degeneration of the cells, which can ultimately lead to the development of cancer.

The protective effect of selenium in relation to various types of cancer has been clearly proven in numerous studies. Among other things, it has been shown that an adequate supply of selenium protects the cells from carcinogenic substances and significantly reduces the development of prostate cancer, lung cancer, oesophageal cancer, stomach cancer, and colon cancer.

Thus, selenium – in the individually required dose – represents an important cancer prevention. Even in the early stages of their disease, cancer patients show a significantly lower selenium level than healthy people.

The further the disease progressed, the more the selenium level drops. This explains why high-dose but individual selenium supplementation can be extremely effective as an additional treatment during cancer therapy.

The side effects of conventional cancer therapy can also be significantly reduced in connection with selenium so that the general condition improves accordingly.

The frequently occurring tormenting inflammation of the mucous membranes is often even completely prevented. The drop in leukocytes and lymphocytes in the blood is also reduced so that the immune system is less weakened by the therapy.

Note: Excess selenium can promote cancer

Since there are also studies that show an increased risk of cancer when the selenium level is too high, the selenium level should always be checked before taking selenium to determine whether there is a deficiency at all. It only makes sense to supplement selenium if there is a deficiency or an increased need. For more information, see “When is a selenium supplement useful?” below.

Selenium strengthens the immune system

As mentioned above, selenium binds heavy metals such as aluminum, arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury – both in the soil and in the human body. In this way, poorly soluble selenium complexes are formed in which the heavy metals can no longer harm the body.

Selenium not only relieves the immune system through its antioxidant effect but also through its heavy metal-binding property. In addition, selenium stimulates the production of antibodies, so that in the event of an infection, it can be overcome more easily.

Selenium in the fight against viruses

Selenium is a component of certain enzymes responsible for neutralizing pro-inflammatory oxidative stress in the body. Viruses in particular cause massive oxidative stress so selenium alone can mitigate the effects of viral infections via the enzymes mentioned.

In addition, selenium-containing enzymes slow down the multiplication of viruses. In the case of a selenium deficiency, on the other hand, viruses can spread more quickly and the corresponding infections can take a serious course.

However, selenium also specifically improves the performance of the immune system, so that pathogens can be eliminated more quickly in the presence of selenium. Some viruses, which are harmless in themselves, can also mutate more quickly in the event of a selenium deficiency, thus turning into pathogens that cause severe disease.

A study was also published in April 2020, which found that in regions (China) with selenium-rich soils, the cure rate of Covid-19 patients was higher. In contrast, the mortality rate was higher in areas with selenium-poor soils.

Selenium deficiency blocks the thyroid

Along with iodine, selenium is THE trace element par excellence for the thyroid gland. Selenium ensures a balanced supply of the body with thyroid hormones by controlling the activation and deactivation of thyroid hormones.

On the one hand, selenium ensures the conversion of the prohormone thyroxine (T4) into the active hormone triiodothyronine (T3). On the other hand, selenium deactivates the active T3 if necessary by converting the hormone into the inactive diiodothyronine (T2).

Due to this important task, the selenium supply of the thyroid has a particularly high priority. This is clearly shown by the fact that when there is a selenium deficiency, the thyroid gland is supplied with the vital trace element selenium before the brain.

But selenium has another important task to fulfill in the thyroid gland. In conjunction with glutathione peroxidase, it neutralizes the aggressive free radicals that are produced as a by-product in the form of hydrogen peroxide during hormone production.

Selenium protects the thyroid from inflammation

As you already know, the activity of glutathione peroxidase depends on selenium, so a selenium deficiency can also lead to the thyroid not being adequately protected against free radicals.

This allows these substances to attack and damage the thyroid tissue unhindered.

A correspondingly high dose of selenium (prescribed by the doctor) can curb the resulting inflammatory processes, so that the body’s self-healing powers become active again and can contribute to the regeneration of the tissue.

Selenium can also be helpful in the autoimmune disease of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. In this disease, the immune system forms antibodies, so-called anti-thyroid peroxidase antibodies (anti-TPO antibodies), which are directed against the body’s own thyroid tissue.

As early as 2002, a study was able to show that the level of these antibodies can be significantly reduced by a daily dose of 200 micrograms of selenium. This result was confirmed in several other studies.

In contrast to studies on adults, however, there was no reduction in TPO antibodies during selenium substitution in children and adolescents with autoimmune thyroiditis.

Selenium brightens the mood

People with low selenium levels are often plagued by anxiety, self-doubt, and even depressive moods. They feel overwhelmed, cannot concentrate, and tire very quickly, which understandably restricts the quality of life of those affected considerably.

However, a targeted dose of selenium can seriously change the well-being of those affected – which has been clearly proven by various studies. For example, in a double-blind study, half of the subjects received 100 micrograms of selenium daily for a period of 5 weeks, and the other half received a placebo.

In contrast to the second group, the mood of the selenium subjects improved noticeably. This positive effect of selenium on the psyche has also been impressively demonstrated in other studies.

The explanation for the mood-enhancing effects of selenium is simple. On the one hand, its antioxidative and heavy metal-binding effect is of course also noticeable in the central nervous system and, on the other hand, selenium is involved in the formation of some brain messenger substances (e.g. serotonin). It is no accident that this messenger substance is called the happiness hormone because it ensures inner peace, contentment, and balance.

When is a selenium supplement useful?

Selenium does not have to be taken by everyone. Pay attention to the following points to help you decide whether or not you may need supplemental selenium:

  • Selenium should only be taken if there is a deficiency, i.e. a need, or if there are specific reasons for therapeutic use (e.g. in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis). Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune thyroid disease. Here, selenium can reduce the damage to the thyroid gland and also alleviate the inflammatory reactions – even if the original selenium levels were already normal before the supplementation, i.e. the people affected were not deficient.
  • Selenium should not be taken permanently, but only until an existing deficiency has been remedied or only during a detoxification cure, e.g. B. for 4 weeks (100 to 200 µg per day) or during therapy.
  • You should not take more than 200 µg selenium per day unless you have discussed a higher dose with your therapist because it is suitable for your personal situation.
  • It is therefore ideal to first have it clarified whether you have a selenium deficiency. To do this, have your selenium level measured.

How to get your selenium level measured

The personal selenium status can be determined using a whole blood test (i.e. not in the serum), which costs around 30 euros. The doctor can draw the blood but usually has to send it to a special laboratory.

How high should the selenium level be?

At a selenium level of 140 to 160 µg/l, the activity of selenium-dependent enzymes (for detoxification/antivirus) is said to be at its maximum.

Levels of 100 to 180 µg selenium per liter of blood are normal in well-supplied countries. Values ​​from around 120 to 160 µg/l are therefore also valid for us as reference values. In Germany, however, the values ​​are usually only 60 to 80 µg/l. At the same time, a Polish study showed that women had an increased cancer risk at levels above 90 µg/l.

The daily requirement: This is how much selenium is required

The daily requirement of selenium for an adult is around 70 mcg. If you want to maintain the minimum level of selenium, then just under 0.7 µg of selenium per kilogram of body weight is required, i.e. around 50 µg for a 70-kilogram person.

However, if you really want to be well taken care of, you need more selenium. The optimal activation of the enzymes alone requires 1 µg per kilogram of body weight.

On the one hand, organic selenium preparations such as selenium yeast, but also the inorganic selenium compound sodium selenite or a specifically selenium-rich diet are suitable for optimizing the selenium level.

Organic or inorganic selenium preparations

Unlike the inorganic sodium selenite, selenium yeast is an organic selenium supplement. Selenium yeast is formed when yeast is fermented in a nutrient liquid with a high proportion of inorganic selenium. The yeast converts the inorganic selenium into organic selenium compounds so that selenium yeast consists of 80 percent or more highly bioavailable organic selenium compounds such as selenomethionine and selenium-methyl selenocysteine.

While sodium selenite should not be combined with vitamin C (vitamin C impairs the bioavailability of selenium from sodium selenite), this is not a problem with organic selenium compounds. If you want to take sodium selenite and vitamin C, keep them at least 1 hour apart.

Organic selenium is initially stored in the tissue and is only released from there when needed, which is very well suited for long-term selenium supply. On the other hand, if you want to remedy a deficiency quickly, then sodium selenite is well-suited because it is quick and almost completely absorbed and available.

Foods with selenium

Specifying selenium-rich foods is not easy, since the selenium content is extremely dependent on the soil in question. Food tables from the USA, therefore, indicate selenium levels that do not apply to our foods in Europe. American soils naturally contain more selenium, while European soils are considered to be low in selenium.

However, animal foods also contain selenium here, on the one hand, fish and seafood, have a natural selenium content, and on the other hand meat, which only contains selenium because animal feed can be enriched with selenium.

The Brazil nut, which comes from South America, is ideal for vegans and vegetarians. One Brazil nut (5 g) is said to provide almost 100 µg of selenium, so you should be well supplied with three Brazil nuts a day – although of course you always have to reckon with the fact that food can have very fluctuating vital substance values. Therefore, there are also very different values ​​for the Brazil nut on food tables. The problem is that the quality of Brazil nuts is not always reliable and some nuts taste bad (even moldy) and can also be radioactive.

Coconut is also often considered to be rich in selenium. However, the values ​​in the official tables vary enormously here – from 10 µg per 100 grams to over 800 µg, which does not seem to be very reliable.

Sunflower seeds and sesame should contain around 80 µg per 100 grams. However, you will hardly eat 100 g of sesame or sunflower seeds a day, but usually around 30 to 40 g.

Mushrooms (shiitake and mushrooms) are also considered to be sources of selenium, although the cultivation substrate on which the mushrooms grew is very important.

Vegetables and fruit usually provide less than 5 µg selenium per 100 grams.

Cereals under 10 µg, with buckwheat, oats, corn, and rice containing around 10 µg, the usual cereals (wheat, rye, barley, spelled) significantly less.

There are selenium supplements

It is therefore possible in our latitudes, but not easy, to get enough selenium from food. If in doubt, have your selenium level determined. If the value is okay, you know that you are consuming enough selenium through food. If your value is too low, take a dietary supplement as a cure, e.g. B. to selenium yeast of effective nature (200 µg organic selenium per capsule) or to selenium drops of effective nature (50 µg inorganic selenium (sodium selenite) per 5 drops).

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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