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Selenium Deficiency: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

We all are familiar with essential minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium and so on. But, there is one important mineral that we often miss out from our diet and that's selenium. Selenium is a trace mineral that is necessary for DNA synthesis, reproduction, and metabolism of thyroid hormone and so on. It is naturally present in the soil and in some food sources.

But, when your body is deficient in this mineral, it can cause several health problems such as infertility, hair loss, muscle weakness and so on.

What Causes Selenium Deficiency?

Selenium is found in 2 forms - inorganic (selenate and selenite) and organic (selenomethionine and selenocysteine). Soil contains selenate and selenite which are absorbed by plants and converted into organic forms.

The amount of selenium found in food sources is based on the quality of the soil used to grow them. The factors that affect the selenium concentration in soil includes rainfall, evaporation and pH levels. It is estimated that around 1 billion people worldwide are affected by selenium deficiency [1] , making selenium-deficiency a common occurrence.

Patients with phenylketonuria or other diet-related diseases are prone to selenium deficiency because their diet is restricted from foods rich in selenium.

Symptoms Of Selenium Deficiency [2]

  • Infertility in men and women
  • Hair loss
  • Muscle weakness
  • Brain fog
  • Weakened immune system
  • Fatigue

Who Is At The Risk Of Selenium Deficiency?

  • People living in selenium-deficient areas like certain parts of China, some European countries and New Zealand [3] , [4]
  • People with HIV [5]
  • People undergoing kidney dialysis [6]
  • Individuals with Crohn's disease [7]

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Diagnosis Of Selenium Deficiency

It is difficult to diagnose selenium deficiency because there aren't any specific tests available for it. In some cases, the doctor might check the glutathione peroxidase levels, an enzyme that requires selenium to function. If this enzyme levels are low, you may not have enough selenium in the body [8] .

Treatment Of Selenium Deficiency [9]

Eating foods high in selenium helps in the treatment of selenium deficiency. These foods include Brazil nuts, yellow-fin tuna, beans, rice, whole-wheat bread, oysters, halibut, eggs, sardines, sunflower seeds, chicken breasts and shiitake mushrooms.

The selenium content found in plant-based foods vary depending on the soil pH levels and in region. A study showed that selenium found in Brazil nuts varied from region to region [10] .

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The Recommended Dietary Intake Of Selenium

According to The American Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), the daily minimum requirement of selenium is 70 and 55 mcg per day for men and women respectively.

Risks Of Excessive Intake Of Selenium

Excessive intake of selenium can cause hair loss, nail brittleness, skin lesions, nausea, skin rashes, diarrhoea, fatigue, abnormality of the nervous system, and irritability [11] .

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that the maximum level of selenium intake in people aged 19 years or older is 400 mcg per day and levels above this is considered toxic.

Acute selenium toxicity can lead to kidney failure, heart failure, light-headedness, muscle tenderness, respiratory distress syndrome, hair loss and in rare cases, death [11] .

View Article References
  1. [1] Jones, G. D., Droz, B., Greve, P., Gottschalk, P., Poffet, D., McGrath, S. P., ... & Winkel, L. H. (2017). Selenium deficiency risk predicted to increase under future climate change.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,114(11), 2848-2853.
  2. [2] Oldfield, J. E. (1987). The two faces of selenium.The Journal of nutrition,117(12), 2002-2008.
  3. [3] Jones, C. A., McQuillan, G. M., Kusek, J. W., Eberhardt, M. S., Herman, W. H., Coresh, J., ... & Agodoa, L. Y. (1998). Serum creatinine levels in the US population: third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.American Journal of Kidney Diseases,32(6), 992-999.
  4. [4] Kafai, M. R., & Ganji, V. (2003). Sex, age, geographical location, smoking, and alcohol consumption influence serum selenium concentrations in the USA: third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988–1994.Journal of trace elements in medicine and biology,17(1), 13-18.
  5. [5] Stone, C. A., Kawai, K., Kupka, R., & Fawzi, W. W. (2010). Role of selenium in HIV infection.Nutrition reviews,68(11), 671–681.
  6. [6] Tonelli, M., Wiebe, N., Hemmelgarn, B., Klarenbach, S., Field, C., Manns, B., … Alberta Kidney Disease Network (2009). Trace elements in hemodialysis patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis.BMC medicine,7, 25.
  7. [7] Rannem, T., Ladefoged, K., Hylander, E., Hegnhøj, J., & Jarnum, S. (1992). Selenium status in patients with Crohn's disease.The American journal of clinical nutrition,56(5), 933-937.
  8. [8] Baker, R. D., Baker, S. S., LaRosa, K., Whitney, C., & Newburger, P. E. (1993). Selenium regulation of glutathione peroxidase in human hepatoma cell line Hep3B.Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics,304(1), 53-57.
  9. [9] Morris, V., & Levander, O. A. (1970). Selenium content of foods.The Journal of nutrition,100(12), 1383-1388.
  10. [10] Junior, E. S., Wadt, L. H. O., Silva, K. E., Lima, R. M. B., Batista, K. D., Guedes, M. C., ... & Guilherme, L. R. G. (2017). Natural variation of selenium in Brazil nuts and soils from the Amazon region.Chemosphere,188, 650-658.
  11. [11] Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes: Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 2000.