April Spotlight: Selenium and Men’s Health

written by Skye Sherman - Apr 18, 2022
medically reviewed by Dr. Tolulope Olabintan, MD - May 11, 2022

Photo Credit: by Marta Branco, Pexels.com
Photo Credit: by Marta Branco, Pexels.com

All men and women want to know how to make healthy choices for their lifestyle. We all know about the basics of eating right and exercising, but some of us take it a step further and supplement our healthy diets with added vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients we may be lacking in our daily routine.

Selenium is one supplement that has been controversial yet common. Some people claim it can ward off the risk of various diseases, while others suggest that it does not help and in fact can cause harm. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at selenium, especially as it pertains to men’s health.

Could selenium ward off prostate cancer and other types of cancers? Or is selenium a dangerous supplement to incorporate? Read on to learn more about selenium and how it might apply to your life.

What is selenium?

Let’s start with the basics. What is selenium, exactly? It’s a type of mineral.

WebMD defines it this way: “Selenium is a mineral found in the soil. Selenium naturally appears in water and some foods. While people only need a very small amount, selenium plays a key role in their metabolism.”

As Men’s Journal explains it, “Selenium is a trace mineral that is taken into the body through water and foods such as crab, liver, fish, poultry, Brazil nuts and wheat. The amount of selenium in food depends on where it’s grown or raised — for example, the Eastern Coastal Plain and the Pacific Northwest have the lowest selenium levels in the United States.”

While selenium exists naturally in some foods, some people also take it as a supplement. There’s a variety of reasons that people take selenium as a supplement. One of the main reasons is that it has antioxidant properties, meaning that it can help protect cells from damage.

Note that oxidation may be a contributing factor to cancer, so consuming a lot of antioxidants can be a very good thing. Still, the majority of people likely don’t need to add selenium to their diets, though in some cases, it could be a good idea to do so.

According to WebMD, “Among healthy people in the U.S., selenium deficiencies are uncommon. But some health conditions -- such as HIV, Crohn’s disease, and others -- are associated with low selenium levels. People who are fed intravenously are also at risk for low selenium. Doctors sometimes suggest that people with these conditions use selenium supplements.”

Still, you should be aware that not all of the purported benefits of selenium are based in facts. WebMD continues, “Evidence that selenium supplements may reduce the odds of prostate cancer has been mixed, but most studies suggest there is no real benefit. Selenium does not seem to affect the risk of colorectal or lung cancer. But beware: some studies suggest that selenium may increase the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer.”

Did you know selenium is correlated to all of the below?

* Heart health

* Mental decline

* Prostate

* Rheumatoid arthritis

* Thyroid

That’s right. Selenium might have an effect on all of these conditions. Selenium has also been studied to treat many other conditions, from asthma to arthritis to dandruff to infertility, but the results have been inconclusive so far.

In addition, according to Healthline, “Regardless of where you live, certain factors can make it harder for your body to absorb selenium. For example, you may have difficulty absorbing selenium if you:

* are receiving dialysis

* are living with HIV

* have a gastrointestinal condition, such as Crohn’s disease.”

That’s why selenium supplements may be right for some people but not for others.

How selenium can affect men’s health

For years, many people believed that selenium might be able to ward off prostate cancer. But a study from Harvard Health suggests otherwise:

“Taking selenium, either alone or in combination with vitamin E, increased the risk of high-grade prostate cancer in men who started the study with high selenium levels, but not in those with low selenium levels. Among men who didn’t take either vitamin E or selenium, those who started the study with high selenium levels were no more likely to have developed prostate cancer than men who started it with low selenium levels. (This means the culprit is added selenium from supplements, not selenium from food.)”

In fact, Everyday Health even includes selenium on a list of 7 Supplements Guys Should Never Take! The site reports that it can lead to a higher risk of prostate cancer.

There is still some contrasting evidence out there about selenium, so it’s best to consult with your doctor and do lots of research before adding this supplement to your daily habits.

For example, Healthline reports: “In addition to decreasing oxidative stress, selenium may help lower the risk of certain cancers. This has been attributed to selenium’s ability to reduce DNA damage and oxidative stress, boost your immune system, and destroy cancer cells. A review of 69 studies that included over 350,000 people found that having a high blood level of selenium was associated with a lower risk of certain types of cancer, including breast, lung, colon, and prostate cancers. It’s important to note that this effect was only associated with selenium obtained through foods, not supplements. However, some research suggests that supplementing with selenium may reduce side effects in people undergoing radiation therapy.”

Other reports suggest that selenium can ward against heart disease, mental decline, and more. It’s vital to thyroid health and can boost your immune system as well as possibly reduce symptoms of asthma. But in most cases, unless you have a selenium deficiency (which is very rare in the United States), you probably don’t need to add selenium into your diet.

In other words, whether or not selenium is right for you depends mainly on your individual situation and how much selenium you already get through natural sources such as food and water. But which foods contain selenium? Read on to find out.

Food sources that contain selenium

Remember that selenium is a mineral, as is salt. While selenium supplements are always an option, some foods are an excellent source of selenium. If you want to boost your selenium intake, you can start with food and then supplement it as well if recommended by a doctor.

Healthline reports that many healthy foods are high in selenium:

* “Oysters: 238% of the DV in 3 ounces (85 grams)

* Brazil nuts: 174% of the DV in one nut (5 grams)

* Halibut: 171% of the DV in 6 ounces (159 grams)

* Yellowfin tuna: 167% of the DV in 3 ounces (85 grams)

* Eggs: 56% of the DV in 2 large eggs (100 grams)

* Sardines: 46% of the DV in 4 sardines (48 grams)

* Sunflower seeds: 27% of the DV in 1 ounce (28 grams)

* Chicken breast: 12% of the DV in 4 slices (84 grams)

* Shiitake mushrooms: 10% of the DV in 1 cup (97 grams)

The amount of selenium in plant-based foods varies depending on the selenium content of the soil in which they were grown. Thus, selenium concentrations in crops depend largely on where they are farmed.”

These ingredients sound like the making of a nice, savory salad!

How much selenium is too much?

Like most supplements and vitamins, there exists the possibility of consuming too much selenium. Before you take it, you should be aware of the dangers of excessive selenium intake. Consuming too much selenium can be toxic and even fatal. It’s very rare to experience selenium toxicity, but it’s possible. Signs and symptoms include hair loss, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, facial flushing, tremors, and muscle soreness.

Be aware that Brazil nuts contain a very high amount of selenium, so consuming too many could lead to selenium toxicity, even though it’s very unlikely. According to Healthline, “toxicity is more likely to happen from taking supplements rather than eating selenium-containing foods.”

In the event that selenium toxicity does occur, you should seek medical attention straight away, especially because it could prove to be fatal. “In severe cases, acute selenium toxicity can lead to serious intestinal and neurological symptoms, heart attack, kidney failure, and death,” Healthline reports.

As with anything, be careful when taking selenium and don’t do it without the advice and direction of your doctor to guide you every step of the way. Low selenium levels can be dangerous, but the same goes for high selenium dosages. The bottom line is that you should be monitored by a healthcare professional when using selenium or any other supplement, and it may be doing more harm than good because it all depends on your body and what you need.



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While the above article is based on thorough research, we do not claim to offer a substitute for medical advice from a qualified healthcare provider. The article was written for information and educational purposes only. We aim to provide helpful information to our readers, but cannot provide a treatment, diagnosis, or consultation of any sort, and we are in no way indicating that any particular drug is safe or appropriate for you and your individual needs. To receive professional medical attention, you must see a doctor.