Selenium is one of several elements that are essential but are only required in very small amounts in the body. Although required at trace levels, deficiency will result in functional illness. Selenium is required by the body to help the thyroid gland produce thyroid hormones, and to support phase II liver detoxification. The enzyme glutathione peroxidase (GSH-Px) which catalyses the utilisation of the body’s main sulphur-containing antioxidant glutathione (GSH) contains four atoms of selenium. Selenium, then, fuels the body’s main anti-oxidant (GSH) system which prevents cancer, ageing and neutralises toxic substances.
Selenium deficiency may be more common owed to modern diet and lifestyle factors and may be a contributing factor in recurrent infections, hypothyroidism, poor liver function, and muscular and neurological disorders. Selenium deficiency is associated with growth impairment, hypercholesterolaemia, pancreatic insufficiency, infections, liver impairment and sterility in males. It is also linked to heart disease, muscle disorders, auto-immune and inflammatory disorders and cancer.
Diets containing less than 0.1 mcg/gram of food often result in deficiency whereas diets containing more than 1 mcg/gram of food may cause toxicity, so there is a narrow therapeutic window. The dietary levels of selenium are primarily supplied by the concentration of selenium in the soil. Crops from China, Mongolia, Tibet, Siberia and North Korea are deficient, and together with iodine deficiency this is responsible for the development of Kaschin-Beck disease and symptoms of cartilage abnormalities, joint deformation, osteoarthritis, and dwarfism. It also causes Keshan’s disease, a condition of dilated cardiomyopathy. Only the United States, Canada, Japan, Finland and Senegal have adequate selenium in the soil, however, their imported food will still be selenium deficient. For example half the world’s apples are grown in China which is selenium-deficient.
Selenium deficiency is not commonly diagnosed, but may be becoming more of a problem due to modern diets, international trading of foodstuffs, lifestyle factors such as increased intake of trans-fatty acids found in baking shortenings, margarines, some vegetable oils and fast food; increased prevalence of bowel disorders like malabsorption, and modern exposure to sources of mercury and other heavy metals like lead, cadmium, silver, gold and arsenic.
The body needs selenium to support the function of the antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase, GSH-Px, which neutralises harmful oxidant molecules and free radicals generated by metabolism and stimulates the Th-1 “seek and destroy” arm of the immune system to fight infection and reduce inflammation. Selenium is also required by the body to help the thyroid gland produce thyroid hormones, and to support phase II liver detoxification. Selenium deficiency is associated with growth impairment, hypercholesterolaemia, pancreatic insufficiency, infections, liver impairment and sterility in males. It is also linked to heart disease, muscle disorders, auto-immune and inflammatory disorders and cancer. These conditions often get misdiagnosed as illnesses in their own right by doctors and psychiatrists unfamiliar with this simple biochemical imbalance and they may resort to prescribing pharmaceutical drugs to manage symptoms without addressing the underlying cause. Selenium deficiency responds well to the introduction of organic forms of selenium like selenomethionine.
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