Selenium – The Immune System Mineral
Over my more than 35 years of practicing medicine I have continually been impressed by the ability of selenium to help immune function. Let me tell you a little story about my new bull mastiff puppy Harley who is the cutest little black faced puppy I acquired in September 2011. Well much to my horror, this perfect specimen of a puppy caught the mange from another dog. The local vet did not realize Harley had mange, as it became infected with bacteria. Harley was then treated with antibiotics and got an allergy, which made his rash worse. I scoured the Internet with Google scholar and made the diagnosis my self – Harley had the dreaded mange!
I was away from home for 7 days and so I called a wonderful vet Dr Ian Billinghurst who is a holistic vet who has written a book titled Give Your Dog a Bone. Dr Billinghurst told me to purchase the liquid treatment for mange called Advocate, which I could not apply to Harley until I returned home. In the meantime I called my uncle Robert who lives with Harley and I and I told Robert to give Harley 2 selenium tablets with his meal, each selenium tablet containing 100mcg of selenium.
Well Robert misunderstood my directions and gave Harley 2 selenium tablets, three times daily with his meals, which provided a total daily dose of 600mcg of selenium. Now Harley is 4 months old and weighs 60 pounds, so that’s a large dose of selenium.
Well I finally arrived back home and Harley bounded into my arms and we had a cuddle! I examined his skin and was delighted – his mange was 90% gone! When I discovered Robert’s mistake and realized that Harley had been taking 600mcg of selenium daily for 7 days I understood the connection. The stubborn rash and sores caused by the mange had been almost eliminated by the selenium, as Robert had not been giving Harley anything else that was different. What had happened is that the selenium had strengthened Harley’s cellular immune system quickly and it had eradicated most of the infection. Harley was a very happy little man but just to be sure we applied the Advocate liquid.
My uncle Robert has also been a recipient of the benefits of selenium. Robert had suffered with a large plantar wart for 6 months, which had been causing him to limp around, as being on the sole of his foot, it was very painful. He also had numerous other warts on his body. Warts are caused by the wart virus, which is a papilloma virus that infects the skin. After 8 weeks of high dose selenium Robert was wart free and said to me why don’t you produce a product containing selenium and label it the WART CURE. I explained to Robert that although I had cured hundreds of cases of all types of warts with selenium, such a label claim was not allowed by health authorities.
Selenium is the most important mineral for the immune system and the liver to function at their optimal level; indeed without adequate selenium in your body, your immune system and liver will remain vulnerable to attack. It’s amazing to think that despite the profound importance of selenium to human health many people remain deficient in this life saving mineral. Selenium deficiency is a widespread and serious problem in people of all age groups from the very young to the very old. Unfortunately there is a misconception that selenium deficiency rarely occurs in developed countries. However studies have shown that selenium deficient soils exist in large areas of the USA, New Zealand and Australia and dietary intake of selenium is steadily decreasing in many European countries. There is also a serious deficiency of selenium in the soils of sub-Saharan Africa, Russia and China.
What are the consequences of selenium deficiency?
• Higher morbidity rates in people with chronic viral hepatitis
• Higher morbidity and mortality rates in people with AIDS
• Higher viral loads
• Increased incidence of many different types of cancer, especially lymphoma, breast, prostate, colon, lung, skin and liver cancer
• Frequent colds and flu
• Increased susceptibility to infections of all types
• Persistent infection of the cervix with the human papilloma virus (HPV)
• Incurable warts on the skin or genitals
• Severe and/or recurrent infections with the herpes virus – cold sores, genital herpes and shingles
• Increased severity of many types of liver disease
• Increased risk of thyroid disease, including thyroid cancer
• Increased allergies and chemical sensitivities
• Increased incidence of inflammatory problems
• Increased incidence of autoimmune diseases
The above consequences seem very serious; indeed most people get a shock that something as simple as the mineral selenium can be associated with such a diverse and significant range of common health problems. Let me assure you that medical doctors don’t learn this at medical school ! But the healing power of selenium is not really that surprising if you understand how selenium works in the body and how it can even protect the deepest part of your body’s cells – the nucleus which contains your genes (DNA).
Selenium has been shown to stimulate death (apoptosis) in tumor cells, and a low selenium status predicts a poorer outcome in those with certain cancers. Geographic studies have shown that people who live in areas with selenium deficient soils and have a low selenium intake, have higher cancer mortality rates. A key cancer study conducted over 7 years found that selenium treatment was associated with reductions in total cancer mortality and in the incidences of lung, colorectal and prostate cancers. Research has shown that men consuming the most dietary selenium develop 65% fewer cases of advanced prostate cancer than men with the lowest selenium intake.
Encouragingly, for cancer patients who are receiving chemotherapy, selenium supplementation can reduce the side-effects of these drugs. After 2-3 months of selenium supplementation, the frequency of chemotherapy-induced hair-loss, nausea, abdominal pain, weakness and appetite loss are significantly lower than in those who do not receive selenium treatment.
Studies have shown that low serum selenium levels are associated with higher risks of various types of cancer, including liver cancer. Selenium supplementation is vital in those with all types of chronic liver disease, as it reduces the risk of liver cancer.
Selenium helps to detoxify your liver
Selenium is a great detoxifier – this is because it is required for the production and action of glutathione peroxidase in the liver. Glutathione peroxidase is an antioxidant enzyme necessary for detoxification and protection of the liver against free radical damage. This is why we have included selenium in the Livatone Plus formula.
Some studies have shown that selenium levels appear to be severely depleted in patients suffering with liver disease, especially cirrhosis and hepatitis.
How much selenium should you take?
Safe and beneficial doses of selenium in adults range from 100mcg to 400mcg daily.
Many people will need to take more than 100mcg daily to get the best results, and many of the studies done on selenium used a daily dose of 200mcg to achieve good outcomes. The recommended daily intake (RDI) of 65-80mcg daily is contentious and many nutritionists argue that the RDI should be raised to 200mcg for adequate immune function. Selenium supplements are not expensive.
Can you get enough selenium from food?
The selenium content of food is directly related to how much selenium was in the soil where the food was grown.
Normally selenium is found in Brazil nuts, organ meats, seafood, whole grains, brewer’s yeast, garlic, kelp, molasses, onions and medicinal mushrooms (reishi and shitake mushrooms).
Although seafood caught in its natural habitat is higher in selenium, much seafood sold for human consumption is raised in fish farms and fed pellets.
Selenium levels in the soil are unreliable; thus it is virtually impossible to obtain enough selenium through diet alone, especially if you are battling a nasty virus.
Apart from deficient soils and poor diet, other factors that may make you selenium deficient include –
Exposure to heavy metals, such as mercury and lead
Prior use of chemotherapy drugs to fight cancer
Diseases of the intestines such as gastritis, Crohn’s disease, colitis and celiac disease etc
Can selenium become toxic?
Generally speaking, selenium is very safe, as it is an essential nutrient for all humans and animals; however just because it’s good for you, does not mean the more you take the better off you will be. Like all nutrients we do not need to overdose and if you overdose on selenium, you can get side effects. It is not easy to become toxic from selenium and the toxic dose is generally considered to be 900mcg daily over a period of time – there is no reason to take these huge amounts! Generally speaking selenium overdose comes from industrial pollution.
Tests to see if you have enough selenium in your body
The amount of selenium in a person can be measured by selenium plasma and urine levels and the selenium content of a hair sample. Human plasma should not contain less than 100 to 150 of selenium per millilitre of plasma. Urine levels should be 50 to 100 nanograms of selenium per millilitre of urine. Hair selenium levels should be more than 27 micrograms per gram of hair. The best measure of a person’s long term selenium status is found by assessing the amount of selenium in their toe nails. This requires clippings of toe nails and is not a commonly performed laboratory test, except in research studies. It is however, a valuable test.
The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.
References for selenium
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Beck MA, et al, Host nutritional status and its effect on a viral pathogen. J Infect Dis 2000; 182 (Suppl): S93-6
Domingo E, RNA virus evolution, population dynamics and nutritional status. Biol Trace Elem Res 1997;56(1):23-30
Stehbens W E. Oxidative stress in viral hepatitis and AIDS. Exp Mol Path 2004; 77(2):121-32
Selenium may slow the march of AIDS. Press Release – The Pennsylvania State University. December 9, 2008.
Kalantari P et al. Thioredoxin Reductase-1 Negatively Regulates HIV-1 Transactivating Protein Tat-dependent Transcription in Human Macrophages. J Biol Chem. 2008 Nov 28; 283(48):33183-90.
Garlend M. et al, The epidemiology of selenium and human cancer. San Diego, CA; Academic Press; 1994;263-281
Levander OA et al, Selenium and viral virulence, British med Bull 1999; 55(3): 528-533
Nelson HK, et al. Host nutritional selenium status as a driving force for influenza virus mutations. FASEB J 2001;15:1846-1848
Hurwitz BE, Klaus JR, Llabre MM, et al. Suppression of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 viral load with selenium supplementation: a randomized controlled trial. Arch Intern Med. 2007 Jan 22; 167(2):148-54.
Selenium Monograph – Alternative Medicine Review. Volume 8, Number 1. 2003
Beck MA et al, Selenium deficiency and viral infection. J Nutr 2003;133 (5 Suppl 1):1463S-7S
Rayman MP. The importance of selenium to human health. Lancet 2000; 356:233-41
Rayman MP, Dietary selenium; time to act, British Medical Journal, Vol. 314, 387, Feb 1997
Yu SY Zhu YJ, Li WG. Cancer Institute, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing 100021 and Qidong Liver Cancer Institute, Jiangsu, PR China.