Selenium is an essential trace mineral that has a wide array of health benefits, including its ability to protect against certain heart diseases, boost the strength of the immune system, maximize thyroid function, reduce inflammation, prevent cancer, reduce the signs of premature aging, protect against antibodies, boost hair health, and balance your hormones.
What is Selenium?
Selenium is an organic chemical that is mainly derived from soil, water, and plant materials. Obviously, humans mainly acquire it from various plant sources, and since it is required for a number of essential. It is considered a non-metal, and although it is toxic in large quantities, it is necessary for certain cellular functions of animals and people. Therefore, including selenium-rich plant material in your diet is very important for maintaining overall health and wellness.
It was actually discovered accidentally in the early 19th century, as a precipitate given off in the lead chamber process that was required to produce sulfuric acid. It was originally thought to be toxic and was eliminated, but when it was burned, it gave off an unusual smell, similar to the pungent odor of horseradish. Eventually, it was recognized as an independent element, although it is quite rare and difficult to find in large quantities. It was initially thought to be highly dangerous to humans, since workers in factories exposed to it often became ill. Later, it was seen as an essential nutrient in animals, and subsequently, humans.
Some of the best sources for selenium intake for humans are mainly plants and animals, including cereals, nuts, mushrooms, meat, fish, and eggs. It is also found in significant quantities in animal kidneys, tuna, crabs, and lobsters. Brazil nuts are the richest source that has been discovered so far, mainly because the nut requires no selenium for its own function, but stores large quantities that can be absorbed and utilized by those who eat the nut.
Health Benefits of Selenium
The health benefits of selenium are still being studied extensively, but certain very important advantages are already well known, and are explained in greater detail below.
As mentioned above, selenium has been found to be an essential part in a number of cellular processes, and this includes the body’s response to cancerous activity. Cancer is one of the deadliest diseases on the planet, and remains uncured, so any preventative measures that can be taken are always important. Studies have shown that a normal selenium intake can result in a serious decrease in cancerous cell formation, especially in regards to prostate, colorectal, and lung cancers. Selenium is an essential player in various enzymatic reactions that can induce apoptosis, also known as automatic cell death, specifically for dangerous cancer cells, without harming healthy cells. Free radicals, the byproducts of cellular metabolism that can cause cancer, damage DNA and mutate it to become a cancer cell. Selenium can boost DNA repair and prevent this mutation from occurring. Finally, glutathione superoxidase, an important anti-cancer compound in the body, utilizes selenium for its activity, so significant amounts are needed for those powerful antitumor and anticarcinogenic roles as well.
Studies have shown that selenium is important in the stimulation of antibodies, which are elements of the immune system which can see out and destroy viral, bacterial, fungal, and protozoan foreign bodies that can result in diseases and infections. Selenium helps to stimulate these antibodies, particularly after you receive a vaccination for one of these diseases, making your body resilient and experienced in fighting them off so you remain healthy and protected throughout your life.
Relieves Inflammatory Conditions
Apart from boosting your immune system, selenium also protects your body from wearing down and feeling older than it really is. Selenium has been shown to reduce oxidative stress that often occurs around joints and bones, manifesting as inflammation and various inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, gout, sporiasis, lupus, eczema or associated pain and weakness. By reducing the inflammation at these vital hinges of your body, you can remain active, healthy, and pain-free for many years.
Improves Thyroid Health
When it comes to the endocrine system and the regulation of hormones in the body, the thyroid gland is one of the most significant and impacting. Research has shown that selenium is an essential component of the thyroid gland’s functions, and helps to regulate the amount of thyroid hormone that is produced within the body. The T3 hormone is one of the most important products of the thyroid gland, and it controls your body’s overall metabolic rate and function. Without selenium, the T3 hormone cannot be produced, which can be catastrophic to a wide variety of your body’s systems.
Although we mentioned free radicals as they relate to cancerous growth in the body, they can actually affect the entire body in a number of terrible ways. Free radicals can weaken or kill cells in every organ system, so the antioxidant potential of selenium is vital for protecting health in far more ways than cancer prevention. Free radicals can result in heart disease, kidney malfunction, digestive issues, metabolic syndrome, hormonal imbalance, and premature aging. Selenium acts as an antioxidant and stimulates the creation of more antioxidants!
Free radicals are particularly associated with the aging process, as they are one of the primary causes of wrinkles, age spots, loose skin, weakened muscles, and a generally older appearance. Cognitive decline has also been associated with free radical activity in the neural cortex, destroying pathways and inhibiting the proper functioning of nervous impulses. Selenium can help prevent all of these dangerous conditions from affecting your body by neutralizing these free radicals before they can affect you.
There is a particular heart condition, called Kashin-Beck disease, which affects a wide swath of the population in countries that have low selenium content. This is perhaps the most serious and noticeable effect of a selenium deficiency, and it is characterized by the death of cartilage cells and a retardation of growth, often resulting in osteoarthritis at a young age. Symptoms include joint pain, stiffness, lack of flexibility, and low range of motion, basically crippling those with severe cases. Selenium deficiency is not the only cause of Kashin-Beck, but it is certainly one of the major causes.
Improves Heart Health
Selenium works as a blood thinner, which reduces the chances of blood clots, and it is also shown to reduce the amount of LDL cholesterol that builds up as plaque in the arteries and blood vessels. That plaque can lead to atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes, so selenium is a powerful booster for your overall heart health for a number of reasons.
Selenium toxicity is just as dangerous as a deficiency, so be careful not to overdo your intake. Symptoms of toxicity include:
- Garlic-odored breath
- Gastrointestinal disorders
- Difficulty concentrating
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Pulmonary edema, and even death
Be careful to only take what is necessary, and do not take selenium supplements if you are already on a selenium-rich diet!