Unlike most vitamins and macro-minerals, you probably have not heard too much about selenium before. Selenium is a micro-mineral. Meaning that our body only needs small amounts of it. 

There are two different forms of selenium, organic and inorganic. Now, this is not the same as organic foods. In this case, organic and inorganic refer to the chemical structure of selenium compounds. Our bodies absorb both organic and inorganic forms of selenium.

Role of Selenium in the Body

Within our bodies, selenium assists in reproduction, DNA synthesis. Additionally, the mineral is an important part of selenoprotein and some enzymes, which break down peroxides and help to protect our bodies against damage from oxidative damage and infections. 

The mineral is also used in the management of some conditions such as some cancers, heart, and thyroid disease. 

Our bodies can store excess amounts of selenium until it is needed. Most of this essential mineral is stored in our muscles. 

How Much Selenium Do I Need?

Health Canada recommends healthy individuals over the age of 14 consume 55 micrograms (mcg) of selenium each day. Like other micronutrients, the amount of selenium our bodies need changes depending on a variety of factors including, age, sex and pregnancy. For example, pregnant and lactating people need more of the mineral.

Check out Health Canada’s website for a complete list of recommended daily allowances. 

Am I At Risk of Deficiency? 

Selenium deficiency is very uncommon in North America. But it does not mean it doesn’t happen. Like other micronutrients, some people have a higher risk of deficiency. This includes, 

    • People on dialysis 
    • People with HIV 
    • People living in areas with low levels of selenium in the soil

Severe selenium deficiency is linked to a type of heart disease called Keshan disease and a form of osteoporosis known as Kashin-Beck disease

Can I Have Too Much Vitamin B5?

Yep! There is such thing as too much selenium in our diets. Especially because our bodies can store excess amounts of the mineral until we need it later. Some of the early signs of too much selenium include garlic-like breath and a metallic taste in our mouth. On the other hand, consuming too much selenium for long periods of time can lead to,

    • Hair loss 
    • Brittle nails 
    • Skin rash 
    • Changes in nervous systems 
    • Fatigue 

Consuming too much selenium from dietary supplements can also lead to toxicity. You can learn more about the signs of symptoms from Harvard’s School of Public Health website.

Where Can I Find Selenium? 

Although small amounts of selenium are found in some drinking water supplies, it is not enough to meet our bodies’ needs. This means we still need to get some of the mineral from our diet. 

When it comes to plant-based sources, the amount of selenium in the foods depends on the mineral found in the soil that the food is grown in. Essentially, if there is a low amount of selenium in the soil a plant is grown in, the plant will contain low amounts of the mineral. 

Some selenium-rich sources of food include, 

  • Brazil nuts 
  • Yellowfin tuna 
  • Halibut 
  • Ham 
  • Shrimp 
  • Chicken 
  • Cottage cheese 
  • Baked beans 
  • Oatmeal 
  • Lentils 
  • Spinach 
  • Peaches
Cocktail bowls of shrimp with lemon. Shrimp is a great source of selenium

Dietary Supplements

If we don’t consume enough selenium in our diet, we can also find it in dietary supplements. Selenium can be found in multivitamins and as individual supplements in a variety of forms. 

When it comes to supplements, our bodies absorb more selenium from organic sources of the mineral than inorganic. 

Interaction with Other Medications

Selenium can influence how well some medications work. Additionally, some medications can influence how much selenium is available for our bodies to use. 

It is important to discuss supplementation with your doctor or registered dietitian to prevent any unwanted interactions.

Check out the Micronutrient Monday series to learn more about the role of vitamins and minerals in supporting our health, what happens if we do not consume enough and where to find them in foods!

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