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Selenium is
Selenium Mineral
a trace mineral found in soil, water, and some foods. It is an essential element in several metabolic pathways, including the glutathione-peroxidase pathway. Selenium appears to promote antioxidant activity in the body via glutathione peroxidase (GPX), a selenium-dependent enzyme.

Selenium deficiency can occur in areas were soil content of selenium is low, and may affect thyroid function and cause conditions such as Keshan disease. Selenium deficiency is also commonly seen in patients on total parenteral nutrition (TPN) as their sole source of nutrition. Gastrointestinal disorders may decrease the absorption of selenium resulting in depletion or deficiency. Selenium may be destroyed when foods are refined or processed. For supplementation, selenium as selenomethionine has been reported to have nearly twice the bioavailability of selenium as selenite (1).

Specific dietary sources of selenium include brewer's yeast, wheat germ, butter, garlic, grains, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts, walnuts, raisins, liver, kidney, shellfish (lobster, oyster, shrimp, scallops), fresh-water and salt-water fish (red snapper, salmon, swordfish, tuna, mackerel, halibut, flounder, herring, smelts). Selenium is also found in alfalfa, burdock root, catnip, fennel seed, ginseng, raspberry leaf, radish, horseradish, onion, chives, medicinal mushrooms (reishi, shiitake), and yarrow.

The role of selenium in cancer prevention has been the subject of recent study and debate. Initial evidence from the Nutritional Prevention of Cancer (NPC) trial suggests that selenium supplementation reduces the risk of prostate cancer among men with normal baseline PSA (prostate specific antigen) levels, and low selenium blood levels. However, in this study selenium did not reduce the risk of lung, colorectal, or basal cell carcinoma of the skin, and actually increased the risk of squamous cell skin carcinoma. The ongoing Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT) aims to definitively address the role of selenium in prostate cancer prevention.


Atomic number 34, Na2SeO3, selenium dioxide, selenized yeast, L-selenomethionine, Se, Sele-Pak, selenate, selenite, selenious acid, selenium sulfide, selenocysteine, selenomethionine (Semet), selepen, Se-methylselenocysteine (SeMCYS).

Uses based on tradition or theory
The below uses are based on tradition or scientific theories. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Abnormal pap smears, acne, aging (125), alcoholic cirrhosis, alcoholism, allergic rhinitis, altitude sickness, arsenic poisoning, atherosclerosis, childhood growth promotion, chronic bronchitis, chronic hepatitis, cognitive dysfunction; colitis, depression, dermatitis herpetiformis, diabetes mellitus, Down's Syndrome, eczema, endocrine disorders, esophagus cancer prevention (126), fetal development, gastric cancer prevention (126), gray hair, helminth re-infection, high cholesterol, HIV, hypersensitivity to electricity, immune disorders, immune stimulation, inflammation, inflammatory bowel disease, lupus, macular degeneration, menopausal symptoms, metabolic enhancement, miscarriage prevention, mood disorders, mood enhancement, muscle weakness, neonatal disorders, organ dysfunction, Osgood-Schlatter disease, otitis media, pain, photoprotection, pneumonia, poison prophylaxis, Raynaud's phenomenon, sleep apnea (127), strength enhancement, stroke, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), ulcerative colitis, vaccine adjunct, vasculitis.


The below doses are based on scientific research, publications, traditional use, or expert opinion. Many herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested, and safety and effectiveness may not be proven. Brands may be made differently, with variable ingredients, even within the same brand. The below doses may not apply to all products. You should read product labels, and discuss doses with a qualified healthcare provider before starting therapy.

Adults (18 years and older):
U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults (oral): 80-200mcg. Specifically: 55mcg for female adults; 70mcg for male adults; 40-70mcg for adolescent males, 45-55mcg for adolescent females; 65mcg for pregnant females; 75mcg for breast-feeding females.

Prostate cancer prevention (oral): The dose of selenium associated with reduced risk of prostate cancer in the NPC trial is 200 mcg daily (22;7;12;14).

Maximum Daily Dose (oral):400mcg per day for those older than 14 years old (including adults and the elderly).

Intravenous (should only be used when oral therapy is not feasible, and under the direction of a qualified healthcare professional): For treatment of selenium deficiency in adults, 100mcg of elemental selenium daily for 24-31 days has been suggested. For prevention of selenium deficiency in adults, 20-40mcg of elemental selenium daily has been suggested.

Other:The following doses have been reported in research or practice, although efficacy is not necessarily proven.Asthma: 100mcg daily.Cancer prevention: 200mcg daily.Erysipelas infection: 300-1000mg daily as selenium selenite.HIV positive status: 80mcg daily.Infertility (male): 100mcg daily.Keshan disease:30mcg daily.Myocardial infarction (heart attack): 100mcg daily.Rheumatoid arthritis: 200mcg daily.

Children (younger than 18 years):
U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for infants and children (oral): 10mcg for 0-6 months; 15mcg daily for 6-12 months; 20mcg for 1-6 years; 30mcg for 7-10 years; 45 mcg for 11-14 years; 50mcg for 5-18 years. Adequate intake for infants up to 6 months old may be 2.1mcg/kg/day, and for infants 7-12 months may be 2.2mcg/kg/day.

Maximum Daily Dose (oral):45mcg for 0-6 months; 60mcg for 7-12 months; 90mcg for 1-3 years; 150mcg for 4-8 years; 280mcg for 9-13 years.

Intravenous (should only be used when oral therapy is not feasible, and under the direction of a qualified healthcare professional): 3mcg of elemental selenium/kg/day intravenously for the treatment or prevention of selenium deficiency has been noted.

Other: To treat selenium deficiency in premature infants, 5mcg per day of selenized yeast has been given by a nasogastric tube.


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.

Selenium is a trace element, and hypersensitivity is unlikely. Avoid if known allergy/hypersensitivity to products containing selenium.

Side Effects and Warnings
Chronic toxicity: The level of selenium exposure that will cause chronic toxicity is not known, although doses 4-5 times normal dietary intake have been implicated (1 gram per day for two years has produced signs of toxicity in women) (128;129;130). Selenium toxicity may cause gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, garlic-like breath odor, metallic taste), neuromuscular-psychiatric disturbances (weakness/fatigue, lightheadedness, irritability, hyperreflexia, muscle tenderness, tremor, peripheral neuropathy), dermatologic changes (skin rash/dermatitis/flushing, fingernail loss/thickening/blotching/streaking/paronychia, hair changes/loss), liver dysfunction, kidney dysfunction, thrombocytopenia (low blood platelets), immune alterations (natural killer cell impairment), thyroid dysfunction (decreased T3), reduced sperm motility, or growth retardation. Blood selenium levels may be used to assess the degree of toxicity, with levels below 1000mcg/L usually not associated with serious toxicity, and levels above 2000mcg/L predictive of potential serious toxicity. Chronic selenium toxicity may resemble arsenic toxicity.

Acute overdose (selenosis): Acute selenium poisoning may cause fever, gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, pain, anorexia), liver or kidney functional impairment, respiratory distress, cardiac complications (EKG changes, increased creatine kinase levels, heart damage), and even death if levels are high enough (131;132;69;130;133;134). Other symptoms similar to chronic selenium toxicity may also occur.

Cardiovascular: Chronic low selenium levels are associated with the development of cardiomyopathy (37;57;58;135;136;59;44;35;60;61;62), and possibly with coronary artery disease (63).

Endocrine: An early toxic effect of selenium is disruption of endocrine function, including synthesis of thyroid hormones (T3) (108;115;109;137;43;112;113;72), with unclear effects on growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor. Selenium deficiency may also worsen thyroid disorders related to iodine-deficiency (138;43;110;139).

Renal: Kidney failure with or without dialysis is associated with low selenium levels (71;73;39;72), and kidney transplant appears to correct selenium levels (140).

Genitourinary: Chronic high selenium levels may decrease sperm motility (141;82), although effects on fertility are not known.

Oncologic: Results from the Nutritional Prevention of Cancer (NPC) trial, conducted among 1312 Americans over a 13 year period, suggest that selenium supplementation (200mcg daily) given to individuals at high risk of nonmelanoma skin cancer is ineffective at preventing basal cell carcinoma, and actually increases the risk of squamous cell carcinoma and total nonmelanoma skin cancer (12). Therefore, selenium supplementation should be avoided in individuals at risk or with a history of nonmelanoma skin cancer.

Psychiatric: Researchers have reported high levels of selenium in children with behavioral problems, although causality has not been established. Chronic selenium toxicity has been associated with irritability or fatigue.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
No pregnancy category has been established for supplemental selenium intake although it is generally believed to be safe during pregnancy when consumed in amounts normally found in foods. Animal research reports that large doses of selenium may contribute to birth defects (130;142).

Selenium is excreted in breastmilk (143;144), but is generally believed to be safe to consume during lactation in amounts commonly found in foods.


Most herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested for interactions with other herbs, supplements, drugs, or foods. The interactions listed below are based on reports in scientific publications, laboratory experiments, or traditional use. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy.

Interactions with Drugs
HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors ("Statins"): Concomitant use of selenium in combination with beta-carotene and vitamins C and E appears to decrease the effectiveness of the combination of simvastatin (Zocor) and niacin, although long-term effects are not known. This may be due to antioxidant effects associated with selenium use. Theoretically, selenium could reduce the effectiveness of other HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors such as atorvastatin (Lipitor), fluvastatin (Lescol), lovastatin (Mevacor), and pravastatin (Pravachol).

Niacin: Concomitant use of selenium in combination with beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E appears to decrease the effectiveness of the combination of niacin and simvastatin (Zocor). This may be due to antioxidant effects associated with selenium use.

Corticosteroids: High-dose steroid therapy may decrease plasma selenium levels.

Chemotherapy/Radiation Therapy: Concern has been raised that antioxidants may interfere with radiation therapy or some chemotherapy agents (such as alkylating agents, anthracyclines, or platinums), which themselves can depend on oxidative damage to tumor cells for anti-tumor effects. Studies of the effects of antioxidants on cancer therapies yield mixed results, with some reporting antagonistic effects (interference), others noting synergism (benefit), and most suggesting no significant interaction.This remains an area of study and controversy. In particular, selenium may reduce toxic side effects associated with chemotherapy drugs including cisplatin, doxorubicin, or bleomycin. However, until better evidence is available, selenium supplementation is not recommended during chemotherapy or radiation therapy due to potential interference. Patients considering use of selenium during chemotherapy or radiation therapy should discuss this choice with their medical and radiation oncologists.

Antacids: Agents that alter the pH of the stomach may decrease absorption of selenium.

Oral contraceptives: Selenium levels may be decreased in patients taking oral contraceptives.

Erythropoietin (EPO): Selenium has been suggested to increase the effects of erythropoietin in hemodialysis patients.

Clozapine: It has been suggested that cardiac side effects associated with clozapine use may be related to low selenium concentrations. It is not clear if assessment of selenium levels or selenium supplementation should be routine in patients taking this drug.

Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements
Antioxidants: Selenium is a component of glutathione peroxidase, which possesses antioxidantactivity, and demonstrates antioxidant properties in humans. Long-term clinical benefits remain controversial. Selenium may add to the effect of other antioxidants in the body, such as vitamins A, C, and E, lycopene, green tea, soy, grape seed extract, or melatonin.

VitaminC: There is preliminary evidence that vitamin C may be necessary for maintaining selenium levels in the body.


This information is based on a systematic review of the medical literature, edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration ( Ethan Basch, MD, MSc, MPhil (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center); Nancy Tannous, PharmD (Northeastern University); Catherine Ulbricht, PharmD (Massachusetts General Hospital); Christine Ulbricht, BS (University of Massachusetts); Mamta Vora, PharmD (Northeastern University).

Other useful Minerals information: Potassium | Calcium | Chromium

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