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The Role of Selenium in Your Body

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Selenium is an important nutrient that doesn’t get much press.  In this blog, we will do a quick overview of the role of selenium, what it does and the best way to cover your bases to ensure you’re getting enough (and that you’re getting it in a tasty way of course).

What role does selenium play in the body:  

Selenium is important for reproductive health, thyroid hormone metabolism, and DNA synthesis.  It also works as a protection from oxidative damage and infections.1  (Oxidative damage refers to the stress caused in the body by free radicals, which are molecules with an uneven number of electrons… They result in inflammation and other challenges to the body.) Selenium also plays a beneficial role in cholesterol levels.  As little as 1 serving of selenium-rich Brazil nuts has been shown to reduce LDL and raise HDL levels.2

Who needs selenium?

You may need more selenium if you are having thyroid issues, reproductive challenges or immune stress as, all of these things need selenium for proper functioning.

How much do I need?  Can I get too much?

Adults, both men and women, need at least 55 mcg/day.  A selenium deficiency is rare in the US if you’re going by the RDA;  However, as you may have expected, those standards tend to be low so it is likely that more is needed for optimal health, which is always my goal for myself and my clients.

The tolerable upper limit for selenium is 400 mcg/day.1 However, toxicity isn’t found until 1200 mcg/day.3  If you get too much selenium, the signs include: a garlic-y odor on the breath and a metallic taste in the mouth, hair loss and brittle nails, lesions of the skin, nausea, diarrhea, skin rashes, mottled teeth, fatigue, irritability, and nervous system challenges.1  Please note that too much selenium would be likely from over-supplementation, not from whole food!

How to get adequate selenium in food:

Although selenium is found in animal products, whole grains and beans, it is found in the greatest abundance in Brazil nuts which have over 500 mcg/oz.  That said, just a couple of Brazil nuts a day can easily cover your bases for selenium.  If you like them, enjoy!  If you don’t, throw them into a smoothie or chop them finely and put into oatmeal (so you can’t taste them as much).  

Note:  It’s is best to get organic raw Brazil nuts and be sure to soak them in pure water for 20 minutes and rinse well before eating.  This helps to remove the natural enzyme inhibitors, making them easier to digest and assimilate.  

Brazil nuts are also a great base for kale chips and raw vegan cheese, or added to granola, trail mix or energy balls.  They are an easy and inexpensive way to increase selenium levels.

Resource list:

1. NIH. Selenium — Health Professional Fact Sheet. National Institute of Health.

2. Colpo E, Vilanova CDDA, Brenner Reetz LG, et al. A single consumption of high amounts of the Brazil nuts improves lipid profile of healthy volunteers. J Nutr Metab. 2013. doi:10.1155/2013/653185

3. Lima LW, Stonehouse GC, Walters C, El Mehdawi AF, Fakra SC, Pilon-Smits EAH. Selenium accumulation, speciation and localization in Brazil nuts (Bertholletia excelsa H.B.K.). Plants. 2019. doi:10.3390/plants8080289

Nothing said or implied in this post is intended to treat, cure, diagnose or prevent any disease.  It does not take the place of a health care practitioner.  It is for educational purposes only.