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What does selenium do?
Selenium is an essential trace mineral.

Selenium activates an antioxidant enzyme called glutathione peroxidase, which may help protect the body from cancer. Yeast-derived forms of selenium have induced "apoptosis" (programmed cell death) in cancer cells in test tubes and in animals.1 2 3 A double-blind trial that included over 1,300 people found those given 200 mcg of yeast-based selenium per day for 4.5 years had a 50% drop in the cancer death rate compared with the placebo group.4 In that same study, however, selenium supplementation was associated with a significant increase in the risk of developing one type of skin cancer (squamous cell carcinoma).5 Another study found that men consuming the most dietary selenium (assessed indirectly by measuring toenail selenium levels) developed 65% fewer cases of advanced prostate cancer than did men with the lowest levels of selenium intake.6

Selenium is also essential for healthy immune functioning. Selenium supplementation has reduced the incidence of viral hepatitis in selenium-deficient populations, presumably by enhancing immune function.7 Even in a non-deficient population of elderly people, selenium supplementation has been found to stimulate the activity of white blood cells—primary components of the immune system.8 Selenium is also needed to activate thyroid hormones.

In a placebo-controlled study, supplementation with 200 mcg per day of selenium for three months reduced anti-thyroid antibody levels (indicating a reduction in disease activity) in people with autoimmune thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid gland).9

In a double-blind trial, selenium supplementation of infertile men improved the motility of sperm cells and increased the chance of conception.10

Where is selenium found?
Brazil nuts are the best source of selenium. Yeast, whole grains, and seafood are also good sources. Animal studies have found that selenium from yeast is better absorbed than selenium in the form of selenite.11

Selenium has been used in connection with the following conditions
(refer to the individual health concern for complete information):

Health Concerns

Colon cancer (reduces risk)
Dermatitis herpetiformis
Heart attack
HIV support
Immune function (for elderly people)
Infections (to prevent hospital-acquired infections in very low birth weight infants)
Infertility (male)
Lung cancer (reduces risk)
Pancreatic insufficiency
Phenylketonuria (if deficient)
Prostate cancer (reduces risk)
Rheumatoid arthritis
Thyroiditis (autoimmune)


Cardiac arrhythmia
Cardiomyopathy (only for Keshan’s cardiomyopathy)
Childhood diseases
Diabetic retinopathy (in combination with vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E)
Down's syndrome
Halitosis (if gum disease)
Hypothyroidism (if deficient)
Liver cirrhosis
Macular degeneration
Osgood-Schlatter disease
Pap smear (abnormal)
Pre- and post-surgery health
Retinopathy (combined with vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E)

Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.


Who is likely to be deficient of selenium?
While most people probably don’t take in enough selenium, gross deficiencies are rare in Western countries. Soils in some areas are selenium-deficient and people who eat foods grown primarily on selenium-poor soils are at risk for deficiency. People with AIDS have been reported to be depleted in selenium.12 Similarly, limited research has reported an association between heart disease and depleted levels of selenium.13 People who are deficient in selenium have an increased risk of developing certain types of rheumatoid arthritis.14

How much selenium is usually taken?
While the Recommended Dietary Allowance for most adults is 55 mcg per day, an adult intake of 100–200 mcg of selenium per day is recommended by many doctors.

Are there any side effects or interactions with selenium?
Selenium is safe at the level people typically supplement (100–200 mcg); however, taking more than 900 mcg of selenium per day has been reported to cause adverse effects in some people.15 Selenium toxicity can result in loss of fingernails, skin rash, and changes in the nervous system. In the presence of iodine-deficiency-induced goiter, selenium supplementation has been reported to exacerbate low thyroid function.16 Although most research suggests that selenium prevents cancer, one study found an increased risk of a type of skin cancer (squamous cell carcinoma) in people taking selenium supplements.17 The National Academy of Sciences recommends that selenium intake not exceed 400 mcg per day, unless the higher intake is monitored by a healthcare professional.18

Selenium enhances the antioxidant effect of vitamin E.

Are there any drug interactions?
Certain medicines may interact with selenium. Refer to drug interactions for a list of those medicines.