Seven Reasons to Supplement Selenium

Selenium is a trace mineral of which many have never heard. Livestock producers are mostly aware of it in countries like Australia and NZ. There is a recognition that our soils are almost universally selenium deficient, and animals grazing on those soils suffer the same fate. Selenium can impact reproduction, resilience and resistance in livestock and a shortage of this mineral is the root cause of the debilitating white muscle disease in cattle. Consequently, selenium is included in most supplement powders and lick blocks.

Unfortunately, there has not been a similar recognition of the need to supplement humans eating food grown on selenium-deficient soils. A recent CSIRO study in South Australia highlighted the scale of this oversight. The researchers were unable to find a single part per billion of selenium in any locally grown vegetable tested over a six month period.

In this context, there is a real need for many of us to supplement with this trace mineral and there are several proven gains associated with improving your selenium status. Here we will look at the top seven reasons to supplement with selenium.

1. To boost your liver health

Selenium is the most important mineral for your most important organ, and I am not referring to your heart. The liver is at the coal face when it comes to managing contaminants in our polluted world. It drives detoxification and it is also intimately involved in your immune response. It is also a key player in digestion (the body’s most important process) and most of us never give it a thought. We are much more likely to nurture our heart muscle with diet and exercise than to love our liver and to treat it accordingly. Selenium is essential for a healthy liver and yet it is not in our soils, so it is not in many foods.

2. To produce glutathione peroxidase

A group of three amino acids, called glutathione, is actually the most important liver nutrient. This nutrient teams with selenium to produce our body’s most protective enzyme system, glutathione peroxidase. This powerhouse system protects against all manner of health problems, not the least of which is cancer. In some forms of cancer, like non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the presence of low levels of glutathione peroxidase is now recognised as a marker for reduced resistance. There has been great consternation at recent findings, which have suggested that lipid-lowering drugs (the world's most widely used pharmaceuticals) may be implicated in the body’s inability to manufacture this protective nutrient, even when sufficient levels of selenium and glutathione are present. Whey protein concentrate provides luxury levels of the three amino acids that are used to make glutathione and hence it is often called "poor man's glutathione". In actual fact, whey protein may be preferable to supplementing with expensive glutathione supplements, because the body does not get lazy – i.e., it is often better to supply the building blocks rather than the desired substance.

3. To nurture your thyroid gland

Selenium is second only to iodine as a core mineral for thyroid health. Selenium is required to convert a thyroid hormone called T4 into a more active form called T3. Hypothyroidism can be strongly linked to a selenium deficiency. Loss of libido and energy and temperature management are all consequences of an underactive thyroid. If the thyroid is underperforming, this may be related to other endocrine imbalances, as the thyroid is often referred to as the "master gland" in your endocrine system.

4. To protect against prostate cancer

This insidious disease has recently become the largest killer of Australian men. Selenium has been shown to be a key nutrient for a healthy prostate and it has also been shown to slow tumour growth in cases where cancer is present. Zinc is the number one prostate mineral, but selenium is a close second.

5. To increase longevity

The free radical theory of ageing is the most widely accepted explanation of the ageing process. As already mentioned, selenium is an integral component of the antioxidant enzyme system, glutathione peroxidase. However, it is also a big player in the performance of our two most important free radical control agents, vitamin C and vitamin E. Every time these antioxidant vitamins give up an electron to quell a free radical, the donating molecule is effectively deactivated. Selenium recharges both vitamin C and vitamin E and allows them to continue their disabling of destructive free radicals. This is why supplementing vitamin C is so critical for smokers, because each cigarette draws 30 mg of vitamin C. The skin of smokers ages so rapidly because vitamin C is required for collagen and skin rapidly loses its elasticity without this essential.

6. To boost heart health

Heart disease remains the largest killer in the developed world and selenium has been shown to be a major nutrient for protecting the heart. Research has revealed a link between HDL (the so-called "good cholesterol") and LDL (the so-called “bad” form). Selenium supplementation can significantly increase the levels of HDL cholesterol in relation to LDL. A deficiency of this mineral has also been repeatedly linked to two serious inflammatory conditions that deteriorate the heart muscle – Keshan disease (often found in low selenium soils in China) and cardiomyopathy.

7. To lower asthma risk

It has been found that there is a link between selenium status and this widespread ailment. The other nutrients involved in asthma include magnesium, beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E. Many of our children suffer from this frightening condition and most of them are deficient in magnesium and selenium. In fifteen years of hair testing as part of our four-day Certificate in Sustainable Agriculture course, we have found the majority of people to be deficient in zinc, selenium and magnesium. These three minerals are also linked to the production of hydrochloric acid and associated malabsorption. Digestion is the mainstay of everything and it is clear that a more proactive response to the current "health crisis" would surely involve supplementation with these missing minerals.

Selenium Tips

  • The most effective dose rate is 200 mcg per day, but smokers might double this dose and cancer sufferers might research the tumour-inhibiting potential of 600 mcg per day. Selenium can be toxic at rates exceeding 1000 mcg.

  • The highest natural source of selenium is the brazil nut. Each nut contains 25 mcg of selenium, but it is thought that just 4 nuts per day is sufficient to build up blood levels of selenium to the desired 1.6 to 2 micromols per litre (often within six weeks). Regular consumption of brazil nuts from there on will maintain these ideal levels. There is a secret here. You must chew the nuts thoroughly or they will often appear as undigested pieces in your stool and you have missed out on their selenium bounty. The other trick is to put four brazil nuts into your green smoothie and enjoy the added flavor of the nutty paste that is created.

  • Vitamin E is a selenium synergist. The best source of all eight forms of vitamin E is red palm oil (Red Gold™ from NTS).

  • Another good selenium strategy is to apply the mineral to your home garden – then, you benefit from the 98% bioavailability associated with plant-derived minerals. NTS is the first Australian company to include a good dose of selenium in any home garden fertiliser. Total Cover™ from NTS contains 160 ppm of selenium along with a host of other minerals and biostimulants.

  • LiverLove™ from NTS contains four nutrients most required by the liver, including the full daily dose of selenium and good levels of the three amino acid building blocks for glutathione. We receive wonderful feedback about LiverLove™ from all over the world.

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