Are you taking supplements containing selenium? If so, you may want to reconsider. Here’s why.
More people are taking vitamin supplements these days in the hopes of lowering their risk of disease; but taking supplements doesn’t always carry the same benefits as getting the nutrients from food. In some cases, taking a supplement can have negative effects. One example is taking supplements containing selenium. A new study shows that taking too much selenium could adversely affect the heart by raising cholesterol levels. This adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that supplements containing selenium may be harmful.
What is Selenium?
Selenium is a trace element that the body needs only in minute amounts. The recommended daily intake of selenium is about 45 micrograms per day for an adult which is usually readily obtained from the diet. Selenium is commonly found in nuts, whole grains and cereals, seeds, meats, mushrooms, and seafood. Some vegetables are also a good source of selenium – depending upon the selenium content of the soil they’re grown in. Deficiencies of selenium can be found in some countries, but are uncommon in the United States.
Selenium Health Benefits
Selenium does have health benefits due to its antioxidant properties. It’s also important for a healthy immune system. People began supplementing with it years ago after some studies showed that it could reduce the risk of certain types of cancer – although the most recent studies call this into question. Some studies have shown that although selenium is an antioxidant in low quantities, when there’s too much selenium in the body it can act as a pro-oxidant – causing damage to cells.
Selenium Dangers: The Risks of Too Much Selenium
This most recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition showed that getting too much selenium elevated LDL cholesterol levels in test subjects by up to ten percent. This was seen among people who had high blood levels of selenium, although almost half of them were taking supplements containing selenium. That’s not the only danger of too much selenium. Other studies have shown that high levels of selenium increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and open angle glaucoma.
Selenium Dangers: Selenium Toxicity
When there’s too much selenium in the body either from the diet or from taking supplements, a condition called selenosis can occur – a form of selenium toxicity. This condition can cause loss of hair and fingernails, nerve dysfunction, changes in personality, and digestive upset. If prolonged, the lungs and liver can be affected which can be fatal. Experts believe that selenium levels greater than 400 micrograms per day pose a risk for this condition. Surprisingly, some mushrooms, depending upon the soil they’re grown in, can have high enough levels of selenium to cause problems.
Selenium Dangers: The Bottom Line?
With selenium health benefits being called into question and the dangers of getting too much selenium, it’s best to avoid taking selenium supplements. If you eat a diet of mostly unprocessed foods, it’s unlikely that you’ll become deficient. Eat a healthy, minimally processed diet and chances are you’ll get enough selenium without taking supplements.