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Selenium imbalance

Category: Illness or disabilities



Introduction and description

Selenium is a nonmetal and an essential micronutrient.  The human body's content of selenium is believed to be in the 13–20 milligram range. 

It is possible to be both deficient in Selenium and also to overdose.  Overdosing causes Selenosis.  At high doses Selenium is poisonous.


Selenium Overdose - Although selenium is an essential trace element, it is toxic if taken in excess. Exceeding the Tolerable Upper Intake Level can lead to selenosis.

The TUIL according to some sources is 400 micrograms per day, but the true maximum of course needs to be based on age, body weight and need.

Symptoms of selenosis include a garlic odour on the breath, gastrointestinal disorders, hair loss, sloughing of nails, fatigue, irritability, and neurological damage. Extreme cases of selenosis can result in cirrhosis of the liver, pulmonary oedema, and death.

Selenium deficiency - is theoretically rare in 'healthy, well-nourished individuals'.  If it does occur it will be noticeable in Thyroid disruption and disease [the same may occur on overdose].  

The essential trace element selenium (Se) is a central constituent of 50-70 selenoprotein variants encoded by 25 human genes. ….. Thyroid hormone (TH) synthesis and protection of the thyroid gland from H2O2 and reactive oxygen species derived therefrom as well as TH activation and inactivation by deiodinase enzymes requires Se. Altered Se status has been associated with benign (goiter and autoimmune thyroid disease) and malignant thyroid maladies and several but not all Se supplementation studies reported on beneficial effects. PMID: 24419053

There may also be symptoms related to brain functioning, for reasons which will become apparent when we look at the causes of deficiency.

Other endocrine glands are also affected by selenium deficiency and there is a link between deficiency and infertility in men.

Low sperm production and poor sperm quality are consistent features of Se-deficient animals. The pivotal link between Se, sperm quality and male fertility is GPX4 since the enzyme is essential to allow the production of the correct architecture of the midpiece of spermatozoa. PMID: 15749805

Wikipedia has said that 'in randomized, blinded, controlled prospective trials in humans, selenium supplementation has not – as yet - succeeded in reducing the incidence of any disease.'  This only shows how bad research can produce incorrect impressions.  If the disease was not caused by, for example, mercury toxicity then no effect will be measurable. All this highlights the need to find causes of diseases first before treatment is decided.

Taking selenium supplements each day achieves nothing if your system is fighting a virus.


The causes of Selenium overdose are similar to those listed for Nutritional deprivation - see below.  Specifically, however, known causes of deficiency are:

Intestine disease - It can occur in patients with severely compromised intestinal function

Nutritionally compromised - it can occur in those undergoing 'total parenteral nutrition', and in those of 'advanced age' [who are not eating properly].

Poor soils - people dependent on food grown from selenium-deficient soil are at risk.


Dietary micronutrient deficiencies are widespread, ...here we estimate MND risks due to inadequate intakes for seven minerals in Africa using food supply and composition data, ... Food Balance Sheets (FBSs) for 46 countries were integrated with food composition data to estimate per capita supply of calcium (Ca), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), iodine (I), magnesium (Mg), selenium (Se) and zinc (Zn), and also phytate. …. Deficiency risks are highest for Ca (54% of the population), followed by Zn (40%), Se (28%) and I (19%, after accounting for iodized salt consumption). The risk of Cu (1%) and Mg (<1%) deficiency are low. PMID: 24524331

Having said this, although New Zealand has low levels of selenium in its soil, adverse health effects have not been detected as yet, possibly because they obtain their selenium from fish and shellfish.

Toxins -  If you have been exposed to Peroxides you could be deficient.  One family of selenium-containing molecules (the glutathione peroxidases) destroy peroxide and repair damaged peroxidized cell membranes, using glutathione.  Peroxides are chemicals that have a bleaching effect on organic substances and therefore are added to some detergents and hair colorants. Other large-scale applications include medicine and chemical industry, where peroxides are used in various synthesis reactions or occur as intermediate products.  Any exposure here could cause deficiency as the body attempts to rid itself of the toxins.

Mercury poisoning - if you have been or are exposed to Mercury, you could well be deficient.  It is now recognized that the molecular mechanism of mercury toxicity involves irreversible inhibition of selenoenzymes that are required to prevent and reverse oxidative damage in brain and endocrine tissues.


 Do not use Selenium unless you have positively determined that you have a deficiency.  Although the cause of overdose can be environmental, it appears that it is more often overdosing on Mineral supplements.  For example, a cautionary tale of overdose


Selenium and vitamin E are probably 2 of the most popular dietary supplements considered for use in the reduction of prostate cancer risk. This enthusiasm is reflected in the initiation of the Selenium and Vitamin E Chemoprevention Trial (SELECT). Is there sufficient evidence to support the use of these supplements in a large-scale prospective trial for patients who want to reduce the risk of prostate cancer? Results from numerous laboratory and observational studies support the use of these supplements, and data from recent prospective trials also add partial support. However, a closer analysis of the data reveals some interesting and unique associations. Selenium supplements provided a benefit only for those individuals who had lower levels of baseline plasma selenium. Other subjects, with normal or higher levels, did not benefit and may have an increased risk for prostate cancer. The concept that supplements reduce prostate cancer risk only in those ..with lower plasma levels of these compounds is supported by trials examining beta-carotene supplements. ….. It may be time to conduct a large costly trial to reconsider the use of selenium and vitamin E supplements for the reduction of prostate cancer risk. Some evidence for the use of these supplements exists, but serious embellishment of study findings may be leading to an inappropriate use of these supplements in a clinical setting.  PMID: 11937432

This is what happens when you use symptom based and not cause based medicine.

How it works

The following section describes the means by which both overdose and deficiency can occur.

Nutritional deprivation

References and further reading

  • Urology. 2002 Apr;59(4 Suppl 1):9-19. Selenium and vitamin E supplements for prostate cancer: evidence or embellishment? Moyad MA. Department of Urology, University of Michigan Medical Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-0330, USA. moyad@umich.edu

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