Though selenium deficiency is rare, some people may develop the condition, and they may require selenium supplements.
Selenium is one of those trace minerals that is needed by the human body in very small amounts. It is a non-metal with an atomic number of 34, and a chemical symbol ‘Se’. Selenium is usually found in soil, and humans derive this mineral from plant and animal matter. Studies show that an adult human being requires around 50 micrograms of selenium per day. While plants absorb this mineral directly from the soil, animals get it indirectly from plants. So selenium levels of the soil determine the amount of this mineral in plants. If the soil is deficient in this mineral, the plants that grow in that region will have no selenium, and this in turn affects the people, who inhabit the place. This leads to selenium deficiency. The body’s inability to absorb this mineral is another reason for selenium deficiency.
Certain medical conditions, especially gastrointestinal disorders like, Crohn’s disease, can also cause such deficiency. Deficiency of selenium is considered a rare condition. However, the condition can cause some serious symptoms, as this trace mineral has a very vital role in various chemical reactions inside the body. Prolonged deficiency of this mineral may cause extreme fatigue, mental slowing, muscle weakness and pain, hair or skin discoloration, and even miscarriage. It is also believed to be the causal agent for Keshan disease, hypothyroidism, and Kashin-Beck’s disease. So selenium supplements are often prescribed for those with deficiency of this mineral. Even some medical conditions are treated with these supplements.
Selenium supplements come in many different forms like tablets, capsules, and extended-release tablets. It is always better to increase the intake of selenium-containing foods, instead of resorting to supplements. Such foods include tuna, mushrooms, Brazil nuts, beef, cod, oats, eggs, cheddar, walnuts, etc. However, if you want to use supplements, check out your daily requirement that may vary based on different factors, like gender, age, medical condition, health condition, pregnancy, breastfeeding, etc. Individual dosage has to be determined on the basis of these factors. The dosage has to be followed strictly, as high levels of selenium in the body may lead to toxicity. Never use these supplements without the consent of your physician.
Benefits and Side Effects
Selenium deficiency is a condition that is not studied well. Only a small amount of selenium is essential for the smooth functioning of the human body, but its deficiency may cause some minor to major symptoms. So supplements can be taken to treat such deficiency. Apart from that, some studies claim that selenium, being an antioxidant, is beneficial in preventing heart diseases and cancer. It is also claimed that selenium supplements can lower high cholesterol level, and can be used to treat autoimmune thyroiditis. Use of these supplements is also linked to prevention of certain types of cancer and diabetes. However, there is no scientific backing for these claims.
Normal doses of selenium supplements are usually not associated with any side effect. In high doses, selenium supplements may cause side effects, like selenosis, which is defined as the toxicity caused by high levels of this mineral in the human body. This condition is said to be caused by intake of five times the normal dietary intake of selenium. Selenium toxicity symptoms include gastrointestinal problems (diarrhea), bad breath (garlic odor), loss or brittleness of finger nails and hair, skin problems (itching), metallic taste in mouth, irritability, and weakness. These symptoms have to be treated at the earliest, so as to avoid complications, like cardiovascular problems and liver damage. In very high doses, intake of selenium may sometimes result in death.
In short, selenium supplements have to be taken as per the instructions of your doctor, and you have to stick to the prescribed dosage. It is also important to inform your doctor about your medical conditions and the current medications as well. This is more applicable for those with kidney and stomach problems.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.