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The Brazil nuts have a rich brown outer shell with a creamy white interior.

Curious About Brazil Nuts and Selenium? Here's Why You Should Be

Have you noticed the buzz around selenium on your favorite health bloggers' Instagram feeds, or is this your first time hearing about it? Either way, you're in for a treat. Selenium is an amazing nutrient that's essential for our health. So, what exactly is selenium, and why do we need it? Here’s everything you need to know about this super mineral.

Selenium Who?

Selenium is an essential trace mineral, meaning we need to consume it through our diet. It plays a critical role in metabolism and thyroid function. Though we only need a small amount, the benefits of selenium are vast, deserving more attention. Naturally found in soil and water, selenium is also present in foods like brazil nuts, eggs, mushrooms, tuna, and cod. A single brazil nut can provide 68 to 90 micrograms (µg) of selenium, exceeding the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of 55 µg.

According to a 2017 study, around 1 billion people globally have a selenium deficiency. Adults with inflammation, chronic infections, or digestive issues like Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and HIV are at higher risk. Pregnant and lactating women also need more selenium. When incorporating selenium-rich foods into your diet, try to keep them as whole as possible, as processing can reduce selenium content. Symptoms of deficiency can include a weakened immune system, infertility, muscle weakness, hair loss, and more.

A table of selenium rich foods such as liver, poultry and eggs, next to a sign which reads selenium.

The Importance of Selenium

Selenium might not be as well-known as some other minerals, but it plays a critical role in many bodily functions. Here’s a closer look at why selenium is so essential:

  1. Metabolism and Thyroid Function: Selenium is vital for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland, which regulates metabolism. The thyroid gland contains the highest amount of selenium per gram of tissue among all organs in the body. Selenium is a component of the enzyme that helps convert inactive thyroid hormone (T4) into its active form (T3).
  2. Antioxidant Properties: Selenium is a key component of selenoproteins, which are antioxidant enzymes. These enzymes help prevent cellular damage from free radicals, which are harmful byproducts of oxygen metabolism that can lead to inflammation and various diseases.
  3. Immune System Support: Selenium plays a crucial role in the immune system. It helps lower oxidative stress in the body, which reduces inflammation and enhances immunity. Selenium is essential for the production of prostaglandins, which regulate inflammation and immune responses.
  4. Cognitive Function: Some studies suggest that selenium may support cognitive function and reduce the risk of cognitive decline as we age. This is likely due to its antioxidant properties, which help protect brain cells from damage.

So What Does It Actually Do For You?

Antioxidant Power

Selenium pairs with antioxidants to form a powerful duo. Your body needs selenium to maximize the benefits of specific antioxidants that combat free radicals and inflammation. As a cofactor for antioxidant enzymes, selenium helps neutralize free radicals and protect against oxidative stress, reducing the risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.

Oxidative Stress and Chronic Disease: Oxidative stress is a major factor in the development of chronic diseases. By helping to neutralize free radicals, selenium reduces oxidative stress and helps prevent cellular damage. This is particularly important in protecting the cardiovascular system, as oxidative stress can lead to the development of atherosclerosis, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Selenium and Heart Health: Studies have shown that higher selenium levels are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. Selenium helps prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, a key step in the development of atherosclerosis. Additionally, selenium's anti-inflammatory properties help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Cancer Prevention

If you have a weak immune system or a family history of cancer, selenium can be particularly beneficial. By aiding antioxidants, selenium may reduce the risk of certain cancers, including prostate, bowel, and lung cancers. Studies suggest that high doses of selenium (up to 200 µg per day) can protect DNA, reducing the risk of cell mutations and cancer development.

Selenium and Prostate Cancer: Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in men. Some studies have shown that higher selenium levels are associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer. Selenium's ability to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation may play a role in this protective effect.

Selenium and Colorectal Cancer: Colorectal cancer is another area where selenium may be beneficial. Some research suggests that selenium supplementation can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, particularly in individuals with low baseline selenium levels. This effect is thought to be due to selenium's role in DNA repair and its ability to induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in cancer cells.

Selenium and Lung Cancer: Lung cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. Some studies have suggested that higher selenium intake is associated with a lower risk of lung cancer. This may be due to selenium's antioxidant properties and its ability to enhance immune function.

Immunity Boost

Selenium also supports the immune system. It enhances immunity by lowering oxidative stress, helping the body identify and combat bacteria, viruses, and parasites. A deficiency in selenium can impair immune cell function, slowing the immune response. While our immune systems are remarkable, they perform better with selenium’s help.

Selenium and Viral Infections: Selenium has been shown to enhance the immune response to viral infections. For example, selenium deficiency has been linked to an increased susceptibility to viral infections, such as influenza and HIV. Selenium supplementation has been shown to improve the immune response in individuals with these infections.

Selenium and Autoimmune Diseases: Selenium may also play a role in autoimmune diseases, where the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own tissues. Some research suggests that selenium supplementation can help reduce the severity of autoimmune thyroiditis, a common autoimmune disorder.

An assortment of selenium rich foods such as Brazil nuts, seafood and vegetables such as brocolli, peppers and peas.

Food Sources of Selenium

While brazil nuts are often highlighted as a top source of selenium, there are many other foods that can help you meet your selenium needs. Here are some excellent dietary sources of selenium:

  1. Brazil Nuts: Just one brazil nut can provide more than the RDI for selenium, making it one of the richest sources of this mineral. However, due to the high selenium content, it's important not to consume too many.
  2. Seafood: Fish and shellfish are excellent sources of selenium. Tuna, sardines, shrimp, and salmon are particularly high in selenium. Including these in your diet can help boost your selenium intake.
  3. Meat and Poultry: Beef, chicken, and turkey are good sources of selenium. Organ meats, such as liver and kidneys, are particularly rich in selenium.
  4. Dairy Products: Milk, cheese, and yogurt contain selenium. Including these in your diet can help you meet your selenium needs.
  5. Grains and Seeds: Whole grains, such as brown rice and whole wheat bread, as well as seeds like sunflower seeds, provide selenium. Incorporating these foods into your diet can help increase your selenium intake.
  6. Vegetables: Some vegetables, particularly those grown in selenium-rich soil, can provide selenium. Mushrooms, spinach, and broccoli are good examples.

How to Incorporate Selenium-Rich Foods Into Your Diet

Incorporating selenium-rich foods into your diet doesn't have to be difficult. Here are some practical tips to help you boost your selenium intake:

  1. Snacking on Brazil Nuts: Keep a small container of brazil nuts on hand for a quick and easy selenium boost. Remember, just one nut a day is enough.
  2. Eating More Seafood: Include fish in your meals a few times a week. Grilled salmon or tuna salad are delicious ways to enjoy selenium-rich seafood.
  3. Adding Meat and Poultry: Incorporate lean meats and poultry into your meals. A grilled chicken breast or a serving of beef stew can provide a good dose of selenium.
  4. Including Dairy: Enjoy a serving of yogurt for breakfast or a cheese snack in the afternoon. These dairy options can help you get more selenium in your diet.
  5. Choosing Whole Grains: Opt for whole grain bread and brown rice instead of their refined counterparts. These whole grains are not only richer in selenium but also provide more fiber and nutrients.
  6. Eating More Vegetables: Add selenium-rich vegetables like mushrooms and spinach to your meals. A spinach salad or a side of sautéed mushrooms can be a great addition.

Don’t Overdo It

While selenium is crucial for health, excessive consumption can be harmful and even toxic. Overconsumption, often due to supplementation, can lead to symptoms like vomiting, nausea, fatigue, hair loss, dermatitis, nail changes, and impaired endocrine function. If you’re getting enough selenium through your diet, additional supplements are unnecessary unless recommended by your doctor.

Signs of Selenium Toxicity: Symptoms of selenium toxicity can vary but often include gastrointestinal issues (such as nausea and vomiting), hair loss, and changes in nail appearance. In severe cases, selenium toxicity can lead to more serious health issues, including neurological damage.

Safe Supplementation: If you do need to take selenium supplements, it's important to stick to the recommended dose and avoid taking too much. Always consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen.

The Bottom Line

Don't miss out on the incredible benefits of selenium. Although it doesn't get as much attention as calcium or magnesium, selenium is vital for health, aiding antioxidants, and boosting the immune system. Just one brazil nut per day can provide you with enough selenium to enjoy its benefits. Want to know more about the benefits of brazil nuts? Read all about them here.

Selenium is a powerful mineral that can make a significant difference in your overall health. By incorporating selenium-rich foods into your diet and being mindful of your intake, you can harness the benefits of this essential nutrient. Whether you're looking to boost your immune system, protect against chronic diseases, or simply improve your overall well-being, selenium can play a key role in helping you achieve your health goals.

So next time you’re grocery shopping, consider picking up some brazil nuts, seafood, and other selenium-rich foods. Your body will thank you for it!


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