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Vitamins & minerals health centre

Selenium

Selenium is a trace element that's important for the body's immune system and for reproduction.

Although selenium is available as a supplement, people who eat meat, fish, eggs or Brazil nuts should be able to get all the selenium they need from a balanced healthy diet.

Selenium uses

Selenium has attracted attention because of its  antioxidant properties. Antioxidants protect cells from damage. There is some evidence that selenium in food may reduce the risk of  prostate cancer

Some research has shown that prostate cancer rates appear to be lower in people who eat foods containing certain nutrients including lycopene, found in tomatoes and other red fruit, and selenium, found in brazil nuts."  

In remains unclear whether selenium can reduce the risk of other forms of cancer as research has provided conflicting results. Beware: taking selenium supplements appears to increase the risk of non- melanoma skin cancer.

Some health conditions - such as HIV, Crohn's disease and others - are associated with low selenium levels. People who are fed intravenously are also at risk of low selenium. Doctors sometimes suggest that people with these conditions use selenium supplements.

Selenium has also been studied for the treatment of dozens of conditions, ranging from asthma to  arthritis to dandruff to  infertility. However, the results have been inconclusive.

Selenium dose and instructions for use

Adults need the following amounts of selenium every day:

  • Men: 0.075mg
  • Women: 0.06mg

Taking too much selenium can be harmful. However, taking up to 0.35mg of selenium supplements a day is unlikely to cause any harm.

Selenium supplement information

Selenium supplements may be sold as tablets, capsules or topical treatments. Like any supplement, keep selenium supplements in a cool, dry place, away from humidity and direct sunlight.

Selenium warnings

  • Side effects. Taken at normal doses, selenium does not usually have side effects. An overdose of selenium may cause  bad breath, fever,  nausea, and liver, kidney and  heart problems. At very high levels, selenium could cause death.
  • Interactions. Selenium may also interact with other  medicines and supplements, such as antacids, chemotherapy drugs, corticosteroids, niacin, cholesterol-lowering statin drugs and oral contraceptives.
  • Skin cancer. Selenium supplements are associated with a risk of non-melanoma skin cancer so people at high risk of skin cancer should not take these supplements.

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on August 14, 2013

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