WHAT IS SELENIUM? Selenium is an essential trace mineral like iron or copper or zinc. Our body needs it to function correctly. When it comes to minerals, it is the antioxidant supreme. It activates our body’s own antioxidant system through the enzyme glutathione peroxidase. This bolsters the immune system and has many wonderful benefits; chiefly amongst those is it protects us against cancer.
SELENIUM AGAINST CANCER
A double blind trial that included 1,300 people found that those given 200mcg of a yeast-based selenium per day for 4 ½ years had a 50% drop in the cancer death rate compared to those in the placebo group. If a drug had performed similarly in any such trial it would make headlines and be hailed as a wonder drug. Another study found that men consuming the most selenium through diet developed 65% fewer cases of advanced prostrate cancer than those with lower selenium intake.
AS AN ANTIOXIDANT
Through its function with glutathione it acts as a powerful antioxidant helping the body to combat damage done by free radicals. As is well known, oxidation damage in the body is responsible for most degenerative disease including the aging process itself; not just the appearance of our skin, but the quality of our internal organs also. Through its antioxidant qualities it also works as an anti-inflammatory in conditions such as arthritis.
Selenium is a scavenger of toxic metals in the body; it is an antagonist of mercury, lead, aluminium and cadmium. It also increases our white blood cell activity which is the main thrust of our immune system. A study at Liverpool University examined the effects of selenium supplementation on the polio virus. The results showed that the supplement increased cellular immune response, and produced a more rapid eradication of the virus.
IT’S GOOD FOR YOUR HEART TOO
Many population studies have shown that selenium is a protective nutrient against the development of heart disease and strokes. Indeed, it has been found that those with low selenium levels have a 70% greater risk of coronary heart disease than those with normal levels.
ACTION ON THE THYROID Another important benefit of selenium is its function in activating our main thyroid hormone (T4) and converting it into the useable form of T3. So people on thyroid medication, who are not responding to it, could well be deficient in this important mineral.
The benefits of selenium don’t stop there; fertility of both men and women depend on optimum levels of selenium intake and so does the baby’s good health. Along with folic acid and zinc, selenium is crucial to prevent malformed spines. Pregnant women who don’t get enough selenium are more likely to have a miscarriage.
SO ARE WE GETTING ENOUGH SELENIUM?
We should get our intake of selenium from the food we eat, but selenium is distributed very unevenly across the earth’s surface. British soil contains precious little of this mineral. We used to obtain a decent supply when we were eating bread made from Canadian wheat but as we are now using poor European wheat our selenium intake has decreased.
Additionally, many people suffer from wheat intolerance and therefore naturally avoid consuming it. There is no RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for selenium which seems strange to say the least, but we only need a tiny amount. In the U.S. the RDA is set at 55mcg but many nutritionists recommend 100 to 200mcg. It is toxic at large doses and the National Academy of Sciences in the US recommends that intake should not exceed 400mcg per day without being monitored – so supplementation of 200mcg should be the maximum.
There are no obvious signs of selenium deficiency but because of the decline in our diet the Food Standard Agency is commissioning research to find out if this decline is affecting our overall health. Unfortunately, such commissions can take forever and we need to take action now!
It may be great advice to eat 3 Brazil nuts daily as an insurance policy. If you do decide on a supplement, then taken with Vitamin E enhances both the vitamin and selenium.
Des Sheehan LCPH RMANN DIP IRID
Des Sheehan has been in healthcare for more than 20 years and practices Homoeopathy, Nutrition and Iridology in Rayleigh.
This article first appeared in issue 4 (Autumn 2006) of Healthy Life – Mind, Body & Soul Magazine