Selenium is an essential trace mineral and it plays a fundamental part in our health. Mostly, it is found in the kidneys, liver, pancreas, spleen and the lymph nodes so a large range of bodily functions can be affected by the levels of selenium we ingest.
Selenoprotems are involved in processes including reproduction, thyroid activity, DNA synthesis, correct eye functioning, muscle function and the efficient working of the heart. It is vital for helping the body to maintain healthy thyroid hormone function, which is essential for regulating metabolism.
Selenium is important for the sexual health in men. Especially, it keeps the testes and seminal vesicles healthy and promotes the production of sperm and its motility. Men therefore have a greater need for this compound. A deficiency in selenium can lead to infertility in males.
Selenium is commonly known as an antioxidant. This is because it’s an essential component of glutathione peroxidase (GPx). This enzyme works with vitamin E. Together they carry out tasks which help remove free radicals which are toxins caused as a by-product of metabolic functions and also are a result of pollution. Selenium and vitamin E work synergistically. They function more efficiently together than alone in carrying out antioxidant and immunostimulating functions. Together they work in preventing the body ageing too quickly as a result of tissue oxidation. Selenium and vitamin E work as a team to prevent age related degenerative diseases.
In people whose oxidatives stress levels are high, selenium works as an antioxidant and provides valuable health benefits. People such as smokers, those with inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or those people who have infections which can compromise their cell immunity.
People with infectious diseases like HIV or AIDS will find particular importance in this compound, selenium. The immune system really needs selenium to function properly. It is a key nutrient in counteracting the development of the HIV virus and inhibits its progression to AIDS.
There have been several epidemiological studies which have shown that those people with the highest levels of selenium are at a reduced risk of getting cancer. Also, those who already have cancer have less chance of dying from it if they have high levels of selenium in their diets. Scientists discovered that cancer mortality rates fell in groups of people who had lots of exposure to it and this was as early as 1969. They surmised from this that it might then have a preventative effect in the fight against cancer. There are many studies that have concluded that consuming more selenium can reduce the risks of developing and dying from prostate, colorectal and lung cancers.
How can we ensure that we are ingesting enough selenium? In our human bodies, its blood and tissue concentrations are actually very low. Even though it is crucially important there is less than 1 mg. of it in our bodies. This means that it must be supplied by our daily diet.
Good sources of selenium include meat, grains, fish and dairy products. However, most of our foods contain very low levels. The reason for these low levels is because it is a trace mineral derived from plants that extract selenium from soil. That means its availability is largely dependent on soil conditions.
Soils that are deficient in selenium include those in volcanic regions, soils with high iron, acid soils and those with aluminum content. There are areas of Europe, China, and New Zealand known for having selenium-deficient soils. Doctors are actually becoming concerned about diminishing selenium in these parts of the world. In fact, where there are low levels of selenium in the soil there seems to be higher rates of cancer. In areas where the soil is selenium rich, there are below average cancer rates especially in colon, breast and lung cancer. Other health problems selenium can help the immune system to fight are heart disease, growth retardation, depression, skeletal and muscle problems and miscarriage.
So if you are in an area of the world that does not have much selenium in its soil, do not despair. In this modern age we now have access to good, high quality, supplements. It can be taken in its most easily absorbed form, L-selenomethionine, either on its own, or with garlic. It can be taken in combination with other vitamins such as vitamin E, or minerals such as zinc. Clinical trials show that a selenium supplement of at least 100 micrograms daily can boost health and may help prevent many health problems.
By Eirian Hallinan