Your guide to selenium
Posted on August 28 2019
If you’re after a natural way to protect your body, think Selenium. It might not get as much coverage as other minerals like magnesium or zinc, but it’s just as important. It’s capable of increasing your antioxidant capabilities as well as enhancing your immune system. As a trace mineral, you only need selenium in tiny amounts, but the little you do need has powerful effects. Here’s what you need to know.
It acts as a potent antioxidant
There’s a lot of hype surrounding antioxidants, and for good reason. Antioxidants are pretty much nature’s way of protecting your body, fighting off free radicals to safeguard your health. Selenium’s role in all this is helping you get the most out of these marvelous molecules. In slightly more scientific terms, selenium acts as a cofactor for antioxidant enzymes, including glutathione peroxidase, which protects your tissues from oxidative damage.1 It does this by keeping excess free radicals in check, which is basically like removing the bad bits from your cells before they can do any harm. Glutathione is particularly good at this. It’s a master detoxifier and your body's main antioxidant, protecting your cells and ensuring your metabolism runs well.2 Selenium helps your body recycle and produce more glutathione, meaning it protects you from those damaging free radicals.
It boosts your immune health
Your immune system relies on selenium to keep it in tip top condition. Acting as an antioxidant, this micromineral helps lower oxidative stress in your body, which in turn reduces inflammation and enhances your immunity.3 The selenium in the food you eat is particularly supportive for T-Lymphocytes, which are the main cells responsible for keeping your immune system working properly. It’s also needed for the proper functioning of other immune structures, including neutrophils, macrophages and NK cells.4 All of these play an important role in protecting your body from infection and illness. So, to sum it up, selenium is pretty much vital for a healthy immune system.
It helps with hormones
Your metabolism is a pretty big deal. It determines how many calories you burn each day and interacts with your weight and energy levels. One way your metabolism is regulated is by your thyroid, which relies on selenium to work properly. This small but mighty mineral is important for the production and uptake of the hormones your thyroid generates. In fact, your thyroid has higher concentrations of selenium than any other organ in your body.5 Iodine (the key ingredient of the thyroid hormone) actually requires selenium in order to be synthesized properly into the hormone itself.
There’s other ways selenium benefits your hormone activity, too. It has a positive effect on reproductive health, for both men and women. Working as a powerful antioxidant, it can help protect against birth defects and miscarriages caused by DNA damage.6 There’s a strong link between optimal selenium levels and male fertility, as it’s essential for sperm formation and testosterone production. In women, selenium can promote healthy follicles in ovaries, which then develop and release eggs, so it’s key to keep topped up if you’re looking to conceive.
What to remember
Selenium is a bit of a super mineral. Despite often being kept on the back burner when it comes to nutrition, the benefits for your body mean it shouldn’t be overlooked. It helps protect your body from oxidative stress and plays a critical role in your metabolism. You may only need a tiny amount of this micromineral, but topping up is key if you want to benefit from the powerful protection it offers your body.
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1 Wołonciej M., Milewska E., Roszkowska-Jakimiec W. (2016). Trace elements as an activator of antioxidant enzymes. Postepy Hig. Med. Dosw. 70 1483–1498.
2 Guoyao Wu, Yun-Zhong Fang, Sheng Yang, Joanne R. Lupton, Nancy D. Turner, Glutathione Metabolism and Its Implications for Health, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 134, Issue 3, March 2004, Pages 489–492.
3 Schnabel R., Lubos E., Messow C.M., Sinning C.R., Zeller T., Wild P.S., Peetz D., Handy D.E., Munzel T., Loscalzo J., et al. Selenium supplementation improves antioxidant capacity in vitro and in vivo in patients with coronary artery disease: The SElenium Therapy in Coronary Artery disease Patients (SETCAP) Study. Am. Heart J. 2008;156:1201.e1–1201.e11.
4 Ferenčík M., Ebringer L. Modulatory effects of selenium and zinc on the immune system. Folia Microbiol. 2003;48:417–426. 2009 Jan;43(1):45-52.
5 Ventura, M., Melo, M., & Carrilho, F. Selenium and Thyroid Disease: From Pathophysiology to Treatment. International journal of endocrinology, 2017, 1297658.
6 Pieczyńska, Joanna & Grajeta, Halina. The role of selenium in human conception and pregnancy. Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology. 2014, 29. 10.1016/j.jtemb.2014.07.003.