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Selenium is an essential trace mineral that is required by certain enzymes in the body that function as antioxidants (i.e., substances that prevent damage done by chemicals in the body called free radicals). Dietary sources of selenium include whole grains and cereals, Brazil nuts, raisins, liver, fish, poultry, seafood. People get most of their selenium from their diet. The amount of selenium in food depends on where the food is from. Selenium is found in soil and selenium levels in soil vary throughout the world. So foods from soil with high selenium levels will have higher amounts of selenium.
How is this product usually used?
Selenium is found in many foods (see above). Selenium supplements are taken by mouth and are available in capsule, tablet, powder, and liquid form.
The usual recommended daily amount of selenium ranges from 3.5 µg to 200 µg. The recommended amount for people 19 years and older is 55 µg per day. Pregnant women between the ages of 19 and 50 years old may take up to 60 µg per day. Women between the ages of 19 and 50 years old who are breast-feeding may take up to 70 µg per day.
Your health care provider may have recommended using this product in other ways. Contact a health care provider if you have questions.
What is this product used for?
Selenium is used:
- to maintain overall good health
- for its antioxidant effects
- to prevent selenium deficiency (when taking selenium at or above the recommended dose)
People have also used selenium for conditions such as:
- thyroid diseases (e.g., Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, hypothyroidism)
- cardiovascular disease
- high cholesterol
- rheumatoid arthritis
- enlarged prostate
Selenium is effective at treating selenium deficiency. It may be effective at treating Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. For all other uses, there is not enough evidence to show that selenium is effective at treating these conditions.
Your health care provider may have recommended this product for other conditions. Contact a health care provider if you have questions.
What else should I be aware of?
Selenium is safe for most adults when used over the short-term in the recommended amounts. Taking more than 400 µg of selenium can be toxic. Side effects of selenium toxicity may include nausea, vomiting, loss of energy, weight loss, hair loss, skin rash, nail changes, and changes in liver function. In severe cases, it may lead to organ failure and even death.
While short term use of selenium at the appropriate dose appears to be safe for most adults and children, long term use is not recommended. Using selenium for a long period of time can actually increase your risk of getting type 2 diabetes.
Selenium has been shown to be safe for pregnant and breast-feeding women when it is used for a short period of time. The recommended daily amount for pregnant women is 60 µg per day and 70 µg per day for women who are breast-feeding.
It is not safe to use large amounts of selenium (i.e., more than 400 µg per day).
Some herbs or natural health products that have anticoagulant (i.e., blood-thinning) effects may increase the risk of bleeding in people who are taking selenium.
Some species of astragalus, a plant that tends to contain large amounts of selenium, can cause toxicity if taken with selenium supplements.
There may be an interaction between the following medications and selenium supplements:
- anticoagulants (e.g., apixaban, warfarin)
- antiplatelets (e.g., acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), clopidogrel)
- barbiturates (i.e., sedatives)
- immunosuppressants (e.g., azathioprine, cyclosporine, tacrolimus)
- HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors (i.e., cholesterol-lowering medications also known as "statins")
There appears to be a link between selenium supplements and an increase in skin cancer. However, the studies are conflicting and more evidence is needed. People with a history of non-melanoma skin cancer (a common type of cancer that is usually treated successfully when it is found early) should consult a doctor before taking selenium supplements.
Because of its blood-thinning effects, people should avoid taking selenium supplements at least 2 weeks before surgical procedures. Taking selenium close to the time of surgery may lead to excessive bleeding.
People living with autoimmune conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis, should avoid selenium supplements as these products may worsen these types of conditions.
People undergoing dialysis may benefit from selenium supplements, since dialysis can cause deficiency.
In cases of selenium deficiency caused by hypothyroidism (a condition where the thyroid gland is not functioning properly), selenium supplements should only be taken in combination with iodine. Taking selenium supplements alone can worsen hypothyroidism.
A diet containing large amount of selenium has been shown to reduce sperm motility, which could decrease male fertility.
Before taking any new medications, including natural health products, speak to your physician, pharmacist, or other health care provider. Tell your health care provider about any natural health products you may be taking.
- Health Canada. Drugs and Health Products. Multi-Vitamin/Mineral Supplements Monograph. https://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/atReq.do?atid=multi_vitmin_suppl&lang=eng.
- Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Selenium.
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