12 Amazing Benefits of Selenium

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 08/31/2023

Selenium may be one of the most underrated nutrients—it has countless incredible benefits just waiting to be unlocked. Though it’s not talked about often, selenium is absolutely essential for health and vitality. It’s responsible for numerous biological processes from detoxifying the body to hormone production.

If you want to maintain a healthy body, you’re going to want to learn more about this amazing nutrient.

In this article, we’re going cover:

Pile of selenium-rich Brazil nuts on wooden table | 12 Amazing Benefits of Selenium


What is Selenium?

Selenium is a trace mineral that was discovered by a Swedish chemist in the early 1800s. It was first thought to be a toxic chemical. It wasn’t until the 1950s that scientists learned that it was a vital nutrient with extremely powerful antioxidant properties.

In the 1960s, researchers discovered that it has potent antitumor effects, and that those with low selenium may be at higher risk for cancer. This has a lot to do with its main function, which is to help protect against oxidative damage by neutralizing free radicles.

Free radicals are unstable atoms. They are created when oxygen molecules split into single atoms with unpaired electrons. Electrons like to be paired. For this reason, they search out other molecules or atoms to bond with in order to make a pair. This process causes damage to your DNA, cells, and proteins.

Selenium helps stop this destructive process by sacrificing its own electrons, so your DNA, cells, and proteins don’t take the hit. In turn, this helps prevent chronic disease, premature aging, and numerous other negative health effects. Selenium may also be beneficial for chronic health problems and conditions that involve inflammation, like heart disease, arthritis, and asthma.

Aside from selenium’s antioxidant effects, it’s also a co-factor enzyme. Co-factor enzymes are required for the proper function of numerous enzymes throughout the body.


The 12 Benefits of Selenium

While the benefits of selenium seem endless, there are 12 important selenium benefits I want to talk about in this article. Take a look.

1. Helps make glutathione

Selenium helps with the production of a compound called glutathione. Glutathione is the ultimate antioxidant. It has powerful effects that take place in every single cell in the body.

Glutathione has countless vital functions, including:

  • Making DNA
  • Supporting your immune system
  • Forming sperm cells
  • Neutralizing free radicles
  • Assisting enzymes
  • Restoring vitamin E and C
  • Eliminating mercury from the brain
  • Supporting liver and gallbladder function
  • Promoting apoptosis

Glutathione also helps with Fat Storing Hormone sensitivity. As you may already know, Fat Storing Hormone resistance, pre-diabetes, and type II diabetes affect millions of people and contribute to other chronic health problems. Glutathione may help reverse problems like Fat Storing Hormone resistance. If you’re already on a ketogenic diet, selenium could be great additional support for restoring Fat Storing Hormone sensitivity to your cells.

2. Oxidative stress reduction

Free radicles, as we talked about earlier, result in oxidate stress on the body. Mild oxidative stress isn’t a problem—in fact, it can be beneficial. For instance, exercise releases free radicles, which create temporary oxidate stress in your muscle tissue. This small amount of oxidate stress regulates muscle tissue growth and even stimulates your body’s natural production of antioxidants.

The real problems happen when you have a chronic overload of oxidative stress. Those who smoke, eat an unhealthy diet, are obese, consume excessive amounts of alcohol, or are exposed to pollution are likely to have way too much oxidate stress. This leads to damage to your DNA, immune system, and overall health.

However, selenium works as a potent antioxidant to help regulate oxidative stress. If you are low in this trace mineral, you could have a problem with far too much free radicle activity, which is a massive contributor to chronic health issues.

3. Required for the conversion of T4-T3

T4 and T3 are thyroid hormones that regulate your body’s metabolism, temperature, and heart rate. The conversion from T4 to T3 is important because T3 is far more potent. Without this conversion process, you may have hormone imbalances, weight problems, and an abnormal heart rate.

Selenium is an essential part of this T4 to T3 conversion. In fact, it may be even more important than iodine for overall thyroid function. Those with Hashimoto’s disease may benefit the most from this trace mineral. Hashimoto’s is a situation where your thyroid function is low, also known as hypothyroidism. In this case, converting T4 to T3 could be particularly beneficial.

4. Reduced complications of certain diseases

Some research suggests that selenium can help reduce the complications of many diseases and conditions. This includes type II diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, cataracts, and many other conditions that produce or are caused by excessive free radicle damage.

Maintaining healthy selenium levels may help counter situations of disease-related oxidate stress.

5. Anticancer

Selenium may reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer, including breast, prostate, colon, and lung cancers. There are two reasons why this is. First, as oxidative stress damages your DNA, it increases your risk of cancer cells developing. Since selenium helps regulate oxidative stress, it may also reduce the risk of cancer. Second, selenium helps regulate the immune system. A strong immune system is able to recognize abnormal cells—including cancer cells—and eliminate them.

Illustration of cancer and tumor growth | 12 Amazing Benefits of Selenium

6. Antitumor

Similar to the way selenium helps reduce the risk of cancer, it also helps reduce the risk of benign tumors, which aren’t cancerous. Benign tumors are abnormal growths of cells that do not serve a particular purpose or spread to other parts of the body. Contributing factors of abnormal cell growth are excessive oxidation, DNA damage, and cell damage. Selenium helps regulate all three of these issues.

7. It may be beneficial for those with alcohol-related liver disease

The depletion of glutathione makes hepatocytes (liver cells) more vulnerable to the toxic effects of alcohol. As we talked about before, selenium is important in the process of creating glutathione. In fact, one study showed that patients with alcoholic cirrhosis also had especially low levels of selenium.

8. It may be beneficial for those with arsenic poisoning

In many parts of the world, arsenic toxicity is a huge problem. Even in parts of the United States, arsenic can be found in tap water, especially from well water in areas with high arsenic levels. This is because arsenic is naturally found in the earth’s crust in various concentrations. High levels of arsenic can increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and many types of cancer.

In various animal models, selenium has shown to reduce arsenic toxicity. Findings suggest it may be beneficial for arsenic poisoning in humans as well.

9. It may be beneficial for those with autoimmune conditions

Selenium may be beneficial for autoimmune conditions for multiple reasons. Autoimmune conditions are characterized by the immune system attacking your own healthy cells. The antioxidant effects of selenium may help reduce damage by regulating immune function. Additionally, selenium helps reduce thyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibodies, which contribute to autoimmune disease of the thyroid, also called Hashimoto’s disease.

10. It may be beneficial for those with BPH

Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), also known as prostate gland enlargement, is a very common problem men have as they get older. Selenium may be beneficial due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Since BPH is also a contributing factor for prostate cancer, selenium may also indirectly reduce the risk of prostate cancer risk.

11. It may be beneficial for those with diabetes

As I mentioned before, selenium helps produce glutathione, which helps increase or restore Fat Storing Hormone sensitivity. In turn, this may be beneficial for those with Fat Storing Hormone resistance, pre-diabetes, and type II diabetes. Selenium may be great additional support for restoring Fat Storing Hormone sensitivity to your cells, especially if you have low glutathione levels.

12. It may help detox mercury

Mercury is a very toxic heavy metal that can build up in the body can wreak havoc on nervous system function, hearing, speech, vision, and muscle function. One of the most common causes of mercury poisoning is consuming too much fish. Many fish species naturally contain trace amounts of mercury. Selenium has the special ability to counteract the toxic effects of heavy metals, including mercury.

a bowl of healthy selenium-rich spinach | 12 Amazing Benefits of Selenium


How Much Selenium Do You Need?

Your body doesn’t make selenium on its own. This means that you have to get it from food sources. The recommended dietary allowance of selenium is 55 mcg. That is a very small amount, which shows just how potent this mineral is. When using selenium for therapeutic purposes (any of the 12 points above), you can use up to 200 mcg.


How to Get Selenium in Your Diet

The best way to benefit from selenium is to get it from food. In fact, many studies show minimal benefits from selenium supplements. If you do take selenium supplements, selenomethionine may be the most beneficial form.

Eggs, chicken, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, beef, spinach, and sardines are all good sources of selenium. Brazil nuts are also one of the most selenium-rich foods. However, they are also very high in phytic acid. Phytic acid actually blocks selenium. So if you want to consume Brazil nuts, be sure to soak them overnight and dry them out first to get rid of the phytic acid.


Side Effects of Selenium

Is there any such thing as too much selenium? Absolutely. Selenium is a trace mineral, which means you need a very small amount of it. Thankfully, it’s difficult to get too much selenium from healthy foods alone.

The real problem is when you take too many selenium supplements. This is yet another reason why your primary source of selenium should be from a healthy diet and not supplements.

Side effects of toxic levels of selenium include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Hair loss
  • Joint pain
  • Nail discoloration
  • Irritability
  • Bad breathe

Key Takeaways

Selenium is an incredibly powerful trace mineral. Its primary function is to protect the body from excessive free-radicle damage. Free radicles can wreak havoc on the body and promote inflammation and chronic disease, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

The top benefits of selenium include:

  1. Helps make glutathione
  2. Oxidative stress reduction
  3. Required for the conversion of T4-T3
  4. Reduced complications of certain diseases
  5. Anticancer
  6. Antitumor
  7. It may be beneficial for those with alcohol-related liver disease
  8. It may be beneficial for those with arsenic poisoning
  9. It may be beneficial for those with autoimmune conditions
  10. It may be beneficial for those with BPH
  11. It may be beneficial for those with diabetes
  12. It may help detox mercury

The average adult needs around 55 mcg of selenium each day. However, for therapeutic purposes, you can have up to 200 mcg. The body doesn’t create selenium, which means you have to get it from your diet. It’s best not to get your selenium from supplements. Not only is it not as beneficial, but it may also have adverse side effects, like selenium toxicity. Instead, you should get selenium from natural sources such as eggs, chicken, mushrooms, fish, and spinach.

Thanks for sticking with me to the end. I hope this article helped you gain a better understanding of the many benefits of selenium.

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Disclaimer: Our educational content is not meant or intended for medical advice or treatment.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for quality and relevancy.

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