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name of the term : Selenium

Short introduction

  • Selenium is a trace element with the symbol Se.
  • Selenium is found in all body tissues. It is essential to good health but required only in small amounts.

Main natural sources

  • Richest sources: seafood and organ meats; Brazil nuts grown in areas of Brazil with selenium-rich soil.
  • Other sources: meat, cereals and other grains, dairy products.

Main function

  • Required for a number of selenium-dependent enzymes called seleno-proteins.
  • Major antioxidant. Antioxidants protect cells from the damaging effects of free radicals (reactive by-products of normal cell activity), which might contribute to development of many chronic diseases. Vitamin E works together with selenium.
  • Required for the thyroid gland to function properly.
  • Enhancing the functioning of particular immune system cells.
  • Increasing evidence suggests that selenium plays an important role in normal growth and reproduction (sperm production) and in the detoxification system by helping detoxify heavy metal toxins (e.g. mercury and cadmium).

Deficiency disease

  • Selenium deficiency is rare in healthy, well-nourished individuals. It can occur in patients with severe intestinal disorders and those undergoing total parenteral nutrition (feeding intravenously).
  • Suboptimal selenium status is associated with negative health outcomes including thyroid and immune dysfunction.
  • Iodine metabolism requires sufficient selenium. Studies indicate that selenium deficiency may worsen the effects of iodine deficiency on thyroid function. Adequate selenium nutritional status may help protect against some of the neurological effects of iodine deficiency – in infancy and childhood iodine deficiency is manifested by poor mental development, among other symptoms.
  • Selenium deficiency may lead to Keshan disease. Keshan disease affects children and young women in a selenium-deficient area in China. It is a viral disease that damages the walls of the heart, resulting in cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle).
  • Growing children with selenium deficiency may develop a disorder of the joints and bone. This disease is called Kashin-Beck disease and common in Siberia, China and northern Korea. Severe forms may result in joint deformities and dwarfism.
  • A deficiency can cause symptoms of hypothyroidism, including extreme fatigue, mental slowing, goitre and cretinism (see also: iodine).

Recommended daily intake

Latest Dietary Reference Intakes  (DRIs) 
Institute of Medicine (IOM)

Age category

Per day

Pregnancy
Lactation

60 μg (RDA)
70 μg (RDA)
Infants 6 – 12 months20 μg (AI)
Children
 1 – 3 years
 4 – 8 years
20 μg (RDA)
30 μg (RDA)
Males
 9 – 13 years
14 – 18 years
19 – 30 years
31 – 50 years
50 – 70 years
> 70 years
40 μg (RDA)
55 μg (RDA)
55 μg (RDA)
55 μg (RDA)
55 μg (RDA)
55 μg (RDA)
Females
 9 – 13 years
14 – 18 years
19 – 30 years
31 – 50 years
50 – 70 years
> 70 years
40 μg (RDA)
55 μg (RDA)
55 μg (RDA)
55 μg (RDA)
55 μg (RDA)
55 μg (RDA)

 

AI = Adequate Intake.
RDA = Recommended Dietary Allowance.


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