The importance of selenium as an essential mineral
(NaturalHealth365) Did you know by simply consuming foods with selenium one can lower the risk of joint inflammation, improve thyroid health and protect cells and organs from free radical damage! Selenium is a trace mineral that is also an essential nutrient in our diet. It is less popular unlike its counterparts like magnesium or calcium, yet crucial for our everyday health.
Why do we need selenium?
Selenium plays a crucial role in cell metabolism (includes energy release, trigger biochemical processes, oxygen and nutrient transport and many more). Because it is a part of these chemical processes selenium stores in our body are constantly utilized. Luckily, we have an abundance of selenium in soil and water – hence we can easily meet our dietary recommendations for selenium from our food supply.
Selenium also acts as an antioxidant in combination with vitamin E and forms an important part of the antioxidant system such as glutathione peroxidase which fights free radical damage.
How does selenium optimize our health?
1. Thyroid health: Along with iodine, selenium plays a vital role in maintaining thyroid health. It helps the thyroid gland produce the hormone T3 (the active form) and also helps in regulating the amount of T3 produced by the body.
In fact, a selenium deficiency can lead to a malfunction of the thyroid gland which in turn affects the metabolism.
2. Antioxidant support: Selenium is the active component of the body’s endogenous antioxidant defense system – glutathione peroxidase and thioredoxin reductase. It also works in combination with other antioxidants vitamin E, C, B3 and gluthathione to combat the reactive oxygen species that is generated as a byproduct during the normal metabolism.
3. Disease prevention: Animal studies have shown an inverse relationship between selenium intake and risk of diseases. While it is not clear how selenium helps in disease prevention especially lower incidence of cancer, researchers suggest several mechanisms including DNA repair and inhibition of cancer cell proliferation.
Although the results from human studies have been inconclusive, researchers recommend adequate intake of selenium-rich foods for preventing the risk of diseases such as cancer and heart problems.
What are the possibility of a selenium deficiency?
It is surprising to know that we need only a few micrograms per day to meet our daily selenium needs. The recommendation for an adult is 55 micrograms and for children 20 – 40 micrograms depending on the age group. If you are healthy and consume a diet that is nutrient-dense and less processed you should be getting enough selenium on a daily basis.
However if you are smoking, drink alcohol, suffer from Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or a woman consuming birth control pills – you are prone to having low selenium levels and will probably need a dietary boost.
Where can I get selenium?
The major (animal) food sources of selenium are meat, fish, poultry and eggs. Naturally, vegetarians can easily obtain plenty of selenium – without the need for animal foods. Keep in mind – the amount of selenium in plant foods is dependent on factors such as percentage of selenium in soil, the pH of the soil, percentage of organic matter and also the form of selenium to facilitate the absorption by plant roots.
Some of the best plant sources of selenium include brazil nuts (contain 544 mcg per ounce), crimini and shiitake mushrooms, mustard seeds, tofu, brown rice, oats, spinach, asparagus, sunflower seeds and garlic. If choosing meat products go for grass-fed beef, chicken, eggs and sardines. It is best to choose organic and grass-fed meat and meat products in order to maximize health benefits and minimize risks.
There have been no known toxicity reports from consumption foods with selenium. Selenium toxicity is likely to occur from consuming supplements than from natural food sources. Selenium is an important trace mineral that can be easily obtained through diet.
Most foods with selenium are also naturally rich in other nutrients like antioxidants, vitamins and many other minerals, this especially holds true for plant sources of selenium.
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Whitney EN, et al. Understandoing Normal & Clinical Nutrition, 4th ed. Belmont (CA): West Publishing; 1994.
Chun OK, Floegel A, Chung SJ, Chung CE, Song WO, Koo SI. Estimation of antioxidant intakes from diet and supplements in U.S. adults. J Nutr 2010;140:317-24
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