Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it Superman? No–it’s super selenium! This incredible mineral is associated with a number of “super” benefits ranging from cancer prevention to thyroid disease support.
Named after Selene, the Greek goddess of the moon, this trace element forms an essential part of a specific series of proteins called selenoproteins. Although scientists have discovered 22 types of seleno-proteins, many of their biological functions have yet to be identified. It is known, however, that selenoproteins are essential for cellular health and are helpful in disease prevention. One way selenium is believed to help prevent disease is through its action as an antioxidant.
A Powerful Antioxidant
Do selenium supplements prevent oxidative stress? The answer is a resounding yes, according to the results obtained by researchers working at the American Health Foundation. In a 2002 study 36 healthy adult males (aged 19 to 43 years) were randomized to receive 200 mcg of selenium (yeast) per day or placebo for up to one year. After nine months, blood glutathione increased by 19 percent in the selenium group. Glutathione is a major cellular antioxidant that helps protect tissues against free-radical attack and resultant oxidative damage. One area of research that has been the subject of intense interest is the relationship between selenium and the prevention of prostate cancer.
Protection Against Prostate Cancer
One of the most unexpected results using selenium supplements was first discovered by the late Dr. Larry Clark who designed a study in the late 1990s at the University of Arizona to assess the effect of this mineral on skin cancer. In that study, 974 men with a history of skin cancer were instructed to take 200 mcg of selenium (yeast) or a placebo daily for an average of four and a half years. Although selenium use did not decrease the skin cancer rates in these men, it did lower the incidence of developing prostate cancer by a whopping 63 percent.
Using a blood test that helps detect the presence of prostate cancer or prostate inflammation, scientists have determined that men with a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) concentration of less than 4 ng/ml and a lowered blood serum level of selenium benefit most from selenium supplementation.
Thyroid Disease and Selenium
The highest bodily concentration of selenium is found in the thyroid. Because of this, selenium is a key player in maintaining normal thyroid function. Current research suggests that selenium supplementation may be helpful in co-treating certain types of thyroid disorders.
A 2002 study done by Dr. Roland G?ner and colleagues from the University of Munich in Germany suggests that selenium may be helpful in those suffering with autoimmune thyroiditis. In this study, 71 women (average age 47.5 years) with autoimmune thyroiditis were given 200 mcg of selenium (selenite) or placebo daily for 90 days. After three months, those utilizing the selenium supplements had a reduction of thyroid antibodies such as thyroid peroxidase to 63.6 percent, compared to 88 percent in the placebo group. Other thyroid hormones such as TSH, T3, and T4 did not change. It is interesting to note that selenium will accumulate in a number of bodily tissues, including the thyroid, just like mercury.
Selenium and Mercury
Found in a wide number of seafoods, methylmercury is a toxin that can exert permanently damaging effects on the brain and nervous system. The best choice is to avoid foodstuffs contaminated with methylmercury, such as swordfish and king mackerel; however, preliminary research suggests that selenium supplementation may help reduce chronic mercury accumulation.
In a small study from the University of Finland, 23 volunteers (13 men and 10 women, ranging in age from 20 to 69 years) with low serum selenium levels were randomized to receive 100 mcg of selenium (yeast) or placebo daily for four months. By the end of the trial, those taking the selenium supplements had a 34-percent reduction in mercury levels found in their pubic hair.
A Helpful Mineral
Selenium is found in a wide number of foodstuffs, including Brazil nuts, brown rice, shrimp, and salmon. Brazil nuts have the highest naturally occurring levels of selenium at 839 mcg per ounce. Too much selenium can be toxic; therefore, the upper safety limit for the consumption of this trace mineral in adults has been set at 400 mcg per day. When employed judiciously, selenium can be a powerful nutritional ally and should be part of your collection of daily super supplements.