An Essential Mineral that is heralded for its anti-oxidant capabilities, it forms a part of some anti-oxidant enzymes such as glutathione to confer protective effects. Taking more than needed, however, can cause oxidative damage and may be pro-diabetic.

This page features 81 unique references to scientific papers.

How to Take

Recommended dosage, active amounts, other details

An overall intake (foods and supplements) in the range of 200-300ug daily should be the goal for general health and well being with an emphasis on anti-carcinogenic properties.

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Human Effect Matrix

The Human Effect Matrix looks at human studies (it excludes animal and in vitro studies) to tell you what effects selenium has on your body, and how strong these effects are.

Grade Level of Evidence
Robust research conducted with repeated double-blind clinical trials
Multiple studies where at least two are double-blind and placebo controlled
Single double-blind study or multiple cohort studies
Uncontrolled or observational studies only
Level of Evidence
? The amount of high quality evidence. The more evidence, the more we can trust the results.
Outcome Magnitude of effect
? The direction and size of the supplement's impact on each outcome. Some supplements can have an increasing effect, others have a decreasing effect, and others have no effect.
Consistency of research results
? Scientific research does not always agree. HIGH or VERY HIGH means that most of the scientific research agrees.
Pre-Eclampsia Risk Notable Very High See all 3 studies
Supplementation with Selenium significantly reduces the incidence of pre-eclampsia.
Prostate Cancer Risk Minor Very High See study
A small decrease in prostate cancer risk is seen when comparing areas with high soil selenium (indicative of dietary intake of selenium) against areas with low soil selenium.
Acne Notable Very High See study
There seems to be a notable decrease in the total number of lesion counts after nearly two months of Selenium supplementation on those suffering from Acne Vulgaris

Scientific Research

Table of Contents:

  1. 1 Structure and recommendations
  2. 2 Functions in the body in normal dietary ranges
  3. 3 Different forms of selenium in the body
  4. 4 Effects of various intake levels
  5. 5 Different forms of selenium
  6. 6 Interactions with Glucose Metabolism
    1. 6.1 Insulin
    2. 6.2 Diabetes
    3. 6.3 Gestational Diabetes
  7. 7 Interactions with Cancer Metabolism
    1. 7.1 General
    2. 7.2 Prostate Cancer
    3. 7.3 Breast Cancer
  8. 8 Interactions with Aesthetics
    1. 8.1 Skin
  9. 9 Other Medical Conditions
    1. 9.1 Pre-eclampsia
  10. 10 Safety and Toxicity
    1. 10.1 General
    2. 10.2 Genotoxicity
    3. 10.3 Human Toxicity
    4. 10.4 Side-Effects with Safe Usage
    5. 10.5 Case Studies

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1Structure and recommendations

2Functions in the body in normal dietary ranges

It normally acts in concert with a class of enzymes and transporters called Selenoproteins (proteins with selenium in it), many of which are intrinsic anti-oxidant enzymes. In these selenoproteins, selenium acts as a prosthetic group or active site.[1]

3Different forms of selenium in the body

Selenium can take the form of various organic and non-organic compounds.

Non-organic forms typically revolve around Selenite, a triple-oxidized form of selenium. It can be converted via Glutathione into Selenade; this multiple step process produces some superoxide radicals.[2]

Organic forms include the selenoamino acids, which include selenocysteine, selenomethione, and Se-methylselenocysteine. The main active dietary form is selenomethionine.[3] Selenomethionine is a relatively stable compound, but has pro-oxidative metabolites such as Selenid and Methylselenol.[4]

4Effects of various intake levels

Deficiency of Selenium occurs when overall intake is less than 11ug, and 40ug is typically recommended as the minimum intake.[5] A slightly higher but still low dietary intake of selenium (55ug) is sufficient to support the needs of 25 selenoproteins[6][7] although there may be some interindividual differences.[8] Levels above this, but not yet into therapeutic dosages (200-300ug) are possibly in the range of what is needed to exert anti-carcinogenic effects[9][10] and doses up to the range of 750-800ug daily seem to be relatively free of harm.[11] Dosages of 1,500-1,600ug or above start to become associated with harm and doses nearing 3,000-5,000ug can cause direct DNA damage.[12][13][14]

Selenium metabolites can also regulate cell cycles and apoptosis, and aid in tumor regulation.[14]

5Different forms of selenium

The synthetic form called MethylSelenic Acid can be directly reduced into methylselenol and can avoid the B-lysase enzyme intermediate commonly seen with dietary selenium.[15]

6Interactions with Glucose Metabolism

6.1. Insulin

Selenium has been noted in the past to aid glucose metabolism via acting as an insulin mimetic[16] and thus aiding the deposition of glucose into both fat and muscle cells.[17][18] These effects have also been seen in vivo.[19]

6.2. Diabetes

In populations that have sufficient selenium status, epidemiological research[20] and one intervention[21] have suggested that further supplementation may increase the risk for insulin resistance and Type II Diabetes. The intervention was dosed at 200mcg daily.

The theorized mechanism of action is that after a certain threshold of selenium intake (past the RDA, nearing the TUL) selenium builds up in pancreatic tissue[22] and exerts oxidative stress on beta-cells that secrete insulin.[23]

This may be an issue of selenium being anti-diabetic acutely (via acting as an insulin-mimetic and aiding in glucose deposition) but over time damaging beta-cells and exerting the opposite effect and being pro-diabetic.[24]

However, one interventional study found that supplementation of Selenium by pregnant women who were not deficient in Selenium, did not result in increases of adiponectin, a marker of insulin resistance. [25]

6.3. Gestational Diabetes

Several studies have found that Selenium levels decrease in women during pregnancy due to several phenomena such as increased lipid peroxidation, increased fetal requirement, hemodilutional phenomena and deposition in the placenta.[26][27][28][29][30][31]

A systematic review and meta-analysis, found that Selenium concentrations are lower in women with gestational hyperglycemia when compared to normoglycemic pregnant women. [31] The same study found that women with Gestational Diabetes Mellitus, had lower concentrations of Selenium than normal pregnant women in the second and third trimester, however, the difference was only significant in the third trimester. It is believed that this is due to the higher tendency of insulin resistance and higher activity of peroxidase enzymes, such as erythrocyte glutathione peroxidase, in the third trimester.[31]

Thus, women with GDM or impaired glucose tolerance are more likely to be impacted by oxidative stress conditions. Selenium supplementation through food or dietary supplements may be beneficial for such populations.

7Interactions with Cancer Metabolism

7.1. General

Selenium was first discovered to be related to cancer via correlational research showing higher cancer rates in areas with lower crop selenium content.[32]

Several metabolites of selenium may be involved with cancer regulation. Methylselenol is thought to play a role[33][34][14]

Selenoproteins themselves, rather than individual selenoamino acids, are also implicated in cancer prevention. These selenoproteins are typically those that exert anti-oxidative effects[35] (Glutathione Peroxidases and Selenoprotein P) and alleviate cancer during the promotion stage.[36][37]

Specific selenoproteins that have been investigated for being linked to specific cancers include Glutathione Peroxidase 1 being associated with head and neck, lung and breast, and bladder and prostate cancers,[38][39][40][41] Glutathione Peroxidase 2 being associated with colorectal adenoma,[42][43] Selenoprotein P being associated with both colorectal adenoma and Prostate cancer,[44][45] Selenoprotein 15 being associated Head, Neck, breast and lung cancer,[46][47][48] and Thioredoxin reductase 1 being associated generally with most cancers.[49][50] Selenium also enhances the effects of tumor protein p53 which promotes DNA repair, apoptosis and inhibits proliferation.[51]

7.2. Prostate Cancer

Circulating selenium (independent of supplementation) is associated with a decrease in prostate cancer as assessed by a relatively small meta-analysis in a relatively dose-dependent manner up to a serum concentration of 170ng/mL, where it results in a relative risk ratio of 0.8 relative to 60ng/mL (set as baseline).[52] The same meta-analysis found a decreased risk of prostate cancer associated with toenail selenium levels at up to 1 μg/g, where the risk then rose again.

The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT) found no association between selenium status (as measured in toenails) and prostate cancer in any of five selenum concentration quintiles in the population, whose selenium levels ranged from 0.48-8.97μg/g (mean 0.89μg/g, 95% CI 0.55-1.43μg/g).[53] Since there were only 13 cancer cases with toenail selenium levels less than 0.617μg/g included in this analysis,[53] this study represents a relatively selenium-replete United States population compared to patients who were in included in the previous meta-analysis.[52]

7.3. Breast Cancer

Higher selenium levels are correlated with a reduced risk of breast cancer.

One meta-analysis, which examined 16 epidemiological studies, found that high selenium concentrations in serum were associated with a significant decrease in the risk of breast cancer (P=0.002), however, no such association was found between risk of breast cancer and selenium concentration in toe nails (P=0.17)[51]

8Interactions with Aesthetics

8.1. Skin

Acne vulgaris is a chronic skin disease characterized by follicular hyperkeratinization,hormonally-mediated sebum overproduction, and chronic inflammation of the pilosebaceous unit.[54] It is believed that the damaging of lipids in the skin via free radicals is responsible for the inflammatory component of acne. Recent research has found that those who suffer from acne are unable to mitigate this damage efficiently because their antioxidant defense system is overwhelmed. [54]

Thus, based on this research, new studies have aimed to look at the effect of antioxidant supplementation on lesion counts.

A single-blind placebo controlled study that aimed to compare Silymarin, N-acetylcysteine, and Selenium to placebo in reducing lesion counts, found that after eight weeks of supplementation, there was a notable reduction in lesion count in all of the experimental groups, however, the reduction in lesion count was only statistically significant in the N-acetylcysteine and Silymarin groups.[55]

9Other Medical Conditions

9.1. Pre-eclampsia

Pre-eclampsia is a disease that affects pregnant women. It is known to be a leading cause of maternal mortality and morbidity worldwide. The disorder is diagnosed by high blood pressure and large amounts of protein in the urine on or after the 20th week of gestation. [56] In more severe cases of the disorder, there is the presence of systemic endothelial dysfunction, microangiopathy, elevated liver enzymes and red blood cell breakdown. [57]

An animal study found that pregnant rats that were fed selenium free-diets, prior to and following conception, were found to have significant increases in systolic blood pressure and proteinuria, when compared to pregnant rats fed normal selenium diets (239 μg/kg selenium) or high selenium diets (1000 μg/kg selenium). The rats that were deprived of selenium were also found to have significant decreases in liver glutathione peroxidase and thioredoxin peroxidase. [58]

Several observational studies have established that women who suffer from pre-eclampsia, have significantly lower levels of Selenium plasma and lower toenail Selenium concentrations. [59][60][61][62][63] Lower levels were also found to be significantly associated with more severe expression of the disorder. [63]

Serum soluble vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-1 (sFlt-1) is a tyrosine kinase protein and anti-angiogenic factor that is associated with the risk of pre-eclampsia.

A randomized control trial, with 230 primiparous pregnant women, found that supplementation of Selenium (60 μg/d, as Se-enriched yeast) by the experimental group (n=115), from 12 to 14 weeks of gestation until delivery, resulted in significantly lower concentrations of sFlt-1 when compared to the control group (n=115). [64]

A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial found that pregnant women who were given 100 μg of Selenium per day, from the first trimester until the day of delivery, were less likely to develop pre-eclampsia, however, this was not found to be significant (p>0.05). [30]

A systematic review and meta-analysis, concluded from thirteen observational studies and three randomized control trials that there exists an inverse association of blood selenium levels and the risk of pre-eclampsia and that supplementation of Selenium significantly reduces the incidence of pre-eclampsia (p=0.02). [65] However, the authors of one of the studies which this meta-analysis uses have critiqued this interpretation because the authors of the meta-analysis failed to distinguish that there was a significant reduction of Selenium concentrations in umbilical venous samples in the pre-eclampsia group. The authors also critiqued several other aspects of the review, stating that the errors would affect the results of the meta-analysis. [66]

Several observational studies have found that women with lower levels of Selenium in their blood are more likely to develop pre-eclampsia than women with adequate levels of Selenium in their blood. Supplementation of Selenium has been demonstrated in randomized controlled trials to lower the incidence of pre-eclampsia.

10Safety and Toxicity

10.1. General

Much danger of excessive selenium comes through the pro-oxidant compound sodium selenite (thrice oxygenated selenium bound to sodium); this compound is able to induce tumor death via its pro-oxidant abilities, but is also toxic to other cells.[5]

10.2. Genotoxicity

In vitro studies noted that high Se intake can be toxic and have adversely effect on the integrity of genomic DNA in various tissues and organs.[67] When human peripheral blood lymphocytes was exposed to high concentrations of two inorganic salts of selenium-sodium selenite (2.9 x 10-5 M) and sodium selenate (2.65 x 10-5 M), it was found to be lethal.[68] One study that examined DNA oxidation in rats suggests that high dietary intake of inorganic selenium may induce DNA damage in the liver.[69] Although the mechanisms responsible for the adverse effects of high doses of Se are not completely understood, the effects can be severe with DNA damage, oxidative stress, and cell death induction.[67]

10.3. Human Toxicity

Toenails and fingernails damage[70] can occur after high ingestion of selenium. Nail samples are in fact frequently used to estimate selenium status.[71][72][73][74]

One clinical trial examined the plasma response and toxicity reports from 24 men with prostate cancer who received either 1600 or 3200 mcg/day of selenized yeast for up to 24 months. The 3200 mcg/day doses produced more symptoms of selenium toxicity (garlic breath, brittle hair and nails, stomach upset, dizziness) than the 1600 mcg/day doses, but these symptoms were not severe and did not correlate with peaks in plasma selenium levels. The study suggests that doses of selenized yeast greater than 400 mcg/day can be given in controlled situations, for extended periods of time, without serious toxicity.[12]

10.4. Side-Effects with Safe Usage

An observational study shows that dietary exposure to selenium compounds of around 300 mcg per day can have early toxic effect on endocrine function, particularly on the synthesis of thyroid hormones, and NK-cell suppression.[75] One clinical trial randomized subjects to 100 mcg, 200 mcg, or 300 mcg selenium-enriched yeast or placebo tablets for 5 years and found that in euthyroid subjects, selenium supplementation decreased serum TSH and FT4 concentrations by 0.066mIU/I and 0.11 pmol/I, respectively, per 100 mcg/day increase.[76]

Human experimental trials have associated selenium intake with an increased risk for type 2 diabetes.[21] One observational study found that after a median follow-up of 16 years, subjects developed diabetes with an average dietary selenium intake of 55.7 mcg/day, with an odds ratio of 1.29 (95% CI: 1.10, 1.52) for diabetes associated with a 10 mcg/day increase in selenium intake.[77] A clinical trial that assigned subjects with type 2 diabetes to 200 μg/day or placebo for 3 months revealed deterioration in blood glucose control and noted a significant increase in fasting plasma glucose by almost 20 mg/dL in the selenium group and a decrease of about 20 mg/dL in the placebo group.[78] Another clinical trial assigned nondiabetic patients to selenium 200 mcg/day or placebo and found that after a follow up of about 7.7 years, selenium supplementation significantly increased the risk for the disease, with a hazard ratio of 1.55 (95% CI, 1.03 to 2.33).[21]

10.5. Case Studies

A case report of 201 subjects who ingested a liquid dietary supplement that contained 200 times the labeled concentration of selenium (~41,749 mcg/day) noted symptoms including diarrhea, fatigue, hair loss, joint pain, nail discoloration or brittleness, and nausea. Patients often continued to experience hair and nail changes, memory loss, mood swings, fatigue, muscle pains, and garlic breath 90 days after the exposure to selenium had ended.[79]

Another case of a misformulated dietary supplement which contained over 40,000 mcg of Se examined selenium exposure in 97 subjects through nail sample tests. Subjects self-reported high occurrences of dermatological lesions, muscle and joint pain, and neuropsychological signs and symptoms including fatigue, confusion, memory loss, anxiety, fingertip tingling, depression, anger, irritability, insomnia, dizziness and imbalance, eye and vision problems and headache.[80]

A case of xanthotrichia, or yellow hair discoloration, has been reported with selenium sulfide 2.5% shampoo and dihydroxyacetone.[81]

Scientific Support & Reference Citations


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(Common misspellings for Selenium include selenum, selenim, selinium, selinim, selenyum)

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