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Selenium is a naturally-occurring non-metallic trace element. The human body contains about 13 to 20 milligram of selenium. It is known to play a role in certain vital human functions. Our body needs only a small amount of selenium. It must be noted that selenium can be toxic, if consumed in large doses. On the other hand, low selenium levels in the body are linked to poor immune function.

Health Benefits of Selenium
The major functions of selenium in our body include strengthening of the immune system and activation of antioxidant enzymes. These activities are vital for metabolism and other body functions. Here are some of the health benefits of this element.

The health benefits of selenium include production of antioxidants, which fight against free radicals that damage cells.

Selenium's role in combating cancer has garnered a lot of attention recently. A five-year study conducted at the University of Arizona and the Cornell University showed that consumption of 200 mcg of selenium daily resulted in 63% fewer prostate tumors, 58% fewer colorectal cancers, 46% fewer lung malignancies, and a 39% overall decrease in cancer deaths.

Selenium is known to aid healthy fetus development.

Research suggests that selenium can affect a person's mood in a positive manner. Selenium increases the dopamine activity in the brain, thereby enhancing mood.

Another vital nutritional benefit of selenium is its ability to increase the ratio of HDL cholesterol to LDL cholesterol, which is vital for a healthy heart.

Selenium may help prevent hardening of arteries.

According to a study, selenium is also linked to lower rates of central obesity.

It also reduces the severity of cold sores and shingles, and helps fight viral infections.

Cataracts and macular degeneration are known to be the leading causes of impaired vision or blindness in the elderly. Selenium may be useful in preventing the same.

Thyroid hormone is vital for the functioning of every cell in the body. Selenium aids in converting this hormone from a less active form (called T4) to its active form (known as T3).

It is also believed to improve pancreas function.

Selenium helps in the prevention of dandruff. Selenium compounds help to kill malassezia, which is a yeast-like fungus that is normally present on the scalp. An overgrowth of this fungus leads to dandruff. Some amount of selenium is also used in some anti-dandruff shampoos.

Dosage of Selenium
Though normal intake of selenium is safe, and up to a certain extent is essential, intake of selenium supplements beyond the recommended quantity can lead to toxicity. The daily recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of selenium in adults and pregnant women is 55 mcg and 70 mcg respectively. In infants, the RDA of selenium is usually 10 to 40 mcg per day. One should always consult a doctor before consuming selenium supplements. Selenium supplements should not be given to children without the approval of a doctor.

Dietary Sources of Selenium
Food that contain selenium include cereals (wheat, corn, and rice), nuts (walnuts and Brazil nuts), legumes (soybeans), animal products (egg, chicken, beef, cheese), fresh and saltwater fish (tuna, herring, cod, etc.), and shellfish (oysters, clams, crabs, etc.). Turkey, oats, and sunflower seeds are also selenium-rich foods. One of the richest food sources of selenium is Brazil nuts. It should be noted that with regards to consumption of Brazil nuts, certain caution has to be exercised, as the selenium intake may reach toxic levels.

Side Effects
Selenium is a toxic mineral and too much of its intake can be quite dangerous. According to a study conducted by Johns Hopkins University, intake of more than 400 mcg of selenium a day increases the risk of premature death. Some side effects on consumption of selenium are:
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tenderness
  • Shakiness
  • Irritability
  • Weight loss
  • Depression
  • Garlic-like odor
  • Metallic taste in mouth
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Abdominal pain
  • Allergic reactions such as rashes and shortness of breath
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Selenium can increase the risk of nonmelanoma skin cancer
It is always best to get selenium from food sources or from a multivitamin than by taking supplements. If you do opt for a supplement, make sure that you consult a doctor.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.