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8 Signs You’re Suffering from Selenium Deficiency

signs of selenium deficiency


Selenium is vital for various bodily functions, such as metabolism, immune system, and thyroid function. Despite its importance, selenium deficiency is often overlooked but can lead to significant health issues, including increased risk of diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease. Early detection is crucial to mitigate these risks. A balanced diet rich in selenium-rich foods is essential for maintaining adequate selenium levels and overall health.


What is Selenium Deficiency?

Selenium deficiency occurs when the body has insufficient amounts of selenium, a trace mineral crucial for health. It can result from compromised nutrient absorption due to conditions like gastrointestinal disorders or surgeries and is more common in older individuals (over 90). Geographic factors also contribute, as regions with selenium-deficient soil lead to lower selenium levels in local produce. Additionally, certain cholesterol-lowering medications, such as statins, may induce side effects similar to selenium deficiency.

This deficiency impacts critical bodily functions, notably thyroid hormone production and immune system efficacy. Selenium’s role in enzyme activity for thyroid hormones and as an antioxidant for immune defense means its lack can disrupt metabolic balance and lower immune response. Adequate selenium levels are essential for maintaining overall health, emphasizing the need for proper dietary intake and supplementation, especially in at-risk groups.


8 Signs That Indicate Selenium Deficiency


Fatigue and Weakness

Fatigue is often a subtle yet prevalent symptom of selenium deficiency. It particularly affects individuals with gastrointestinal disorders, who may struggle with nutrient absorption, leading to a heightened risk of deficiency. Studies have shown that selenium supplementation can notably boost energy levels, providing significant benefits, especially in cancer patients.


Weakened Immune System

Selenium’s antioxidant properties are vital for robust immune function. A deficiency in selenium can compromise the immune system, increasing vulnerability to infections, including viral and bacterial diseases, and heightening the risk of autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.


Hair and Nail Problems

Selenium directly impacts hair and nail health. Deficiency can result in noticeable changes such as hair thinning, loss of hair luster, and brittle nails. These symptoms may be tied to selenium’s influence on thyroid health or its direct role in maintaining the integrity of hair follicles and nail beds.


Cognitive Impairments

Selenium is integral to brain health and function. A deficiency can lead to cognitive issues, particularly in older adults. Its role in activating neural precursor cells is essential for the generation of new neurons, and a lack thereof can result in the decline of cognitive faculties and memory.


Muscle Pain and Weakness

Deficiency in selenium may manifest as muscle pain or weakness, a symptom linked to its role in mitochondrial function within muscle cells. This condition is more common among individuals with chronic diseases or ongoing infections, where selenium’s role in muscle health becomes increasingly significant.


Thyroid Issues

Selenium is crucial for thyroid hormone production and metabolism. Deficiency can lead to various thyroid-related problems, affecting metabolic rate, body temperature regulation, and overall energy levels, reflecting the thyroid’s pivotal role in endocrine health.


Mood Swings and Depression

Selenium’s impact on mental health is notable. It helps in managing oxidative stress and inflammation, which are key factors in mood regulation. Fluctuations in selenium levels have been associated with mood disorders, including depression and anxiety, highlighting its importance in mental well-being.


Reproductive Health Problems

Selenium’s role in reproductive health is critical. Its deficiency is linked to various reproductive issues, including infertility, complications during pregnancy such as miscarriage, preeclampsia, fetal growth restrictions, and conditions like gestational diabetes and obstetric cholestasis, underscoring its significance in reproductive physiology.


How is Selenium Deficiency Diagnosed?

Diagnosing selenium deficiency typically involves a combination of clinical evaluation and biochemical testing. Clinically, healthcare professionals assess symptoms and dietary history, given that deficiency manifests in various forms, such as muscle weakness and hair loss. Biochemically, the most common method is measuring plasma selenium levels, directly measuring the body’s selenium.

Another method is assessing the activity of glutathione peroxidase, an enzyme requiring selenium. Other biomarkers, like selenoprotein P in plasma and erythrocytes, are also used. However, these tests are not always readily available and can be influenced by individual metabolic differences and the bioavailability of dietary selenium.


Treating Selenium Deficiency

Treating selenium deficiency primarily involves increasing dietary intake of selenium-rich foods, as listed below. The National Institutes of Health recommends different selenium intakes based on age and physiological states, such as pregnancy. Supplementation is another approach, especially when dietary adjustments are insufficient or in cases of malabsorption.

Common supplements include selenomethionine and selenite, with selenomethionine often more easily absorbed. However, avoiding exceeding the recommended upper limit of 400 mcg per day is vital to prevent toxicity. Consulting with a healthcare professional is advised before starting supplements, as individual needs can vary.


Best Sources of Selenium

Selenium varies in foods depending on the selenium content of the soil where they are grown. The primary dietary sources of selenium include:


  • Brazil Nuts: Exceptionally high in selenium, Brazil nuts provide around 544 mcg per ounce (6-8 nuts). They are a convenient and rich source but should be consumed in moderation to avoid excessive intake.
  • Animal Products: Seafood, including fish and shellfish, along with organ meats, are high in selenium. Common poultry, red meat, and eggs also contribute significantly to dietary selenium.
  • Plant-Based Options: For those preferring plant-based diets, whole grains, nuts, and seeds like sunflower seeds and specific types of beans and lentils are good selenium sources.
  • Enriched Foods: Several processed foods, such as pastas, breads, and cereals, are often enriched or fortified with selenium, offering an additional intake option.
  • Other Varied Sources: A wide range of everyday foods like pork, beef, turkey, chicken, cottage cheese, brown rice, baked beans, mushrooms, oatmeal, spinach, milk, yogurt, cashews, and bananas also provide selenium, making it easy to incorporate into various diets and meals.


Diversifying food choices ensures a balanced selenium intake, catering to different dietary preferences and nutritional needs.


Bottom Line

Understanding and addressing selenium deficiency is pivotal for optimal health and well-being. Maintaining adequate selenium levels is crucial because of its significant role in various bodily functions, from metabolism and thyroid regulation to immune system support.

Early recognition of symptoms, proper diagnosis, and appropriate treatment strategies, including dietary adjustments and, if necessary, supplementation, are essential. Individuals should consult healthcare professionals for personalized advice, especially those with conditions affecting selenium absorption.

One can effectively manage and prevent selenium deficiency by incorporating selenium-rich foods into the diet and seeking medical guidance when needed.



Frequently Asked Questions


How does selenium support health?

Selenium is vital for thyroid hormone production, immune system function, and antioxidant defense.

What are the unique signs of lacking selenium?

Symptoms unique to selenium deficiency include specific hair and nail changes, cognitive issues, and particular thyroid dysfunctions.

Who should be cautious about selenium levels?

Older adults, individuals with specific medical treatments, and those in regions with low selenium soil levels need to monitor their selenium intake closely.

Can diet alone prevent selenium deficiency?

In many cases, a diet rich in selenium sources like Brazil nuts, seafood, and meats can maintain adequate levels, but individual needs may vary.

What long-term effects can low selenium have?

Prolonged deficiency can lead to serious health issues, including chronic immune system challenges and potential reproductive complications.