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Selenium And How It Benefits The Thyroid

Medikoe Health Expert

Medikoe Health Expert

  Koramangala, bengaluru, karnataka, india, Bengaluru     Feb 13, 2017

   6 min     


What is Selenium?

Selenium is an element which was discovered in 1817 by J J Berzelius. For a long time, the element was ignored as a therapeutic agent because it had toxic properties. But over recent decades, studies have shown that it helps with the coordination of the function of specific proteins, metabolism of the thyroid hormone, reproduction, synthesis of DNA and, protection from oxidative infection and damage. 

Scientists have also found that it is crucial for maintaining a healthy immune system, hormonal balance, and metabolism.

Selenium can not be made in the body; therefore, the only way to introduce it to the body is through food or dietary supplements.

Since the selenium content affects the body, the scientific community is now researching on if the element could help prevent thyroid issues, heart disease, cancer or the mental decline that occurs with age.

Selenium in the Thyroid

The highest concentration of selenium in the adult human body can be found in the thyroid gland. The element aids the production of thyroid hormone by the gland.

A lot of thyroid issues like hypothyroidism, goitre, thyroid cancer, Graves’ disease, or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (an autoimmune disease), are associated with selenium deficiency.

Selenium also helps the body synthesize iodine, which is one of the critical elements required to produce the thyroid hormone. 

Although selenium is essential to the thyroid, it should be present in proper amounts. Extreme high or low levels of selenium could increase the risk of getting diseases.

How Selenium Benefits Thyroid?

The thyroid has the highest concentration of selenium in the body. Selenium is essential to the thyroid as it used to produce specific proteins called selenoproteins, thus being immensely beneficial to the thyroid gland.

  • One of the ways selenium benefits the thyroid is by acting as an antioxidant. The thyroid generates free radicals or oxygen reactive radicals during the process of producing the thyroid hormone. The antioxidant properties of selenoproteins help remove these free radicals, thus preventing any damage to the thyroid gland or premature ageing.

  • Selenium helps in the conversion of T4 into T3. The thyroid produces the inactive thyroxine hormone(T4) which is later converted to its active form, triiodothyronine (T3). This process is essential as these hormones help with the metabolism and function of different hormones. To convert T4 to T3, the thyroid gland makes use of two enzymes called deiodinases, which is a subgroup of selenoproteins. 

If the body lacks selenium, there will be a low production of T3, which would result in an increased production of Thyroid-stimulating hormone(TSH) in the body. An increased number of TSH stimulates the thyroid to produce more T4.

This would result in an increase in the free radicals produced, and since there is no selenium to act as an antioxidant, the thyroid will be damaged in the process. The high amount of T4, low amount of T3 and an unusual increase in TSH creates scar tissue within the gland making that part non-functional.

Selenium can help reduce thyroid antibody levels in the body. Thyroid antibodies are produced when a person's immune system targets thyroid proteins or different parts of the thyroid gland. This could lead to issues like thyroiditis, tissue damage in the thyroid gland or affect the thyroid function.

When such an effect takes place, the person could develop an autoimmune deficiency or chronic diseases associated with hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism such as Hashimoto’s disease or Graves disease.

Recent research has shown selenium supplements can help reduce these thyroid antibodies.

Source of Selenium

Selenium is found both organically and inorganically. Organic forms of selenium include selenomethionine and selenocysteine, while the latter included selenate and selenite. Both of them can be taken into the body, but the organic form is a more effective supplement as the body absorbs more of the organ selenium when compared to the inorganic one.

Consuming Brazil nuts, seafood, meat, poultry, eggs, bread, cereals and grains could help increase the selenium in the body.

Selenium content can also be increased by taking dietary supplements like multivitamins or selenium supplements.

Measuring Selenium in the Body

As mentioned before, the body requires a proper amount of selenium; it can’t be too low or too high. The healthy level of selenium in the blood is considered to be eight micrograms per decalitre (mcg/dL)

The level of selenium in the blood is measured by conducting blood tests, or performing analysis if nails and hair. These tests usually are done when the doctor suspects an increase or decrease in the level of selenium, and see to that it is within limits.

Selenium Deficiency

Selenium deficiency is not that common, but certain people still are at risk of developing this condition. These are the people who

  • Could have absorption issues in the digestive system like Crohn’s disease,

  • Have undergone gastric bypass surgery,

  • Live in an area with selenium-deficient soil as that would mean there won’t be any selenium content in the food

  • Have been undergoing kidney dialysis

  • Are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Signs and Symptoms of Selenium Deficiency

Low selenium levels in the body could bring about different symptoms that usually are noticed in people with thyroid issues. These symptoms include infertility, fatigue, increase in weight, hair loss, weak immune system making the person more prone to sickness, and the patient might be restless and have a hard time concentrating.

Treatments for Selenium Deficiency

The most ideal way to help your body cope with selenium deficiency is by increasing the intake of selenium-rich food like Brazil nuts, tuna, rice, beans and whole-wheat bread. But keep in mind that you don’t take it in excess. The idea is to get 55 micrograms of selenium per day for those who are above 14 years of age, but up to 70 micrograms in case of pregnant women.

If increasing the intake of selenium-rich food doesn’t help, then switch to selenium supplements wither in the form of multivitamins or standalone selenium dietary supplements such as selenomethionine or selenite, preferably the former as it is easily absorbed by the body.

Selenium Toxicity

Having increased selenium intake could result in selenium toxicity, which is comparatively less common than selenium deficiency. This condition is also known as selenosis. In India, it usually occurs due to high amounts of selenium in the soil. Other reasons include overdose of selenium supplements or having an occupation in the metal processing industry.

Signs and Symptoms of Selenium Toxicity

There is both acute and chronic selenium toxicity.

Symptoms of acute selenium toxicity include nausea and vomiting, fatigue, diarrhoea, pain in the abdomen, cardiac issues like hypotension, pulmonary edema, and tachycardia, neurological problems like ataxia, tremors, confusion, etc. The patient’s breath has a garlic-like odour.

Symptoms of chronic selenium toxicity include discolouration and brittleness of the nails, hair loss, infertility, hepatic dysfunction, rashes on the skin, and hypothyroidism in addition to the acute symptoms.

Treatments for Selenium Toxicity

Selenium toxicity is really rare, but if it does occur, the first step to be taken is to stop the intake of selenium-rich food or supplements. This usually results in the reversal of toxic effects. 

Besides that, there is no proven treatment.

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Tags:  Nutrition,food,Thyroid, Selenium

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Rahul Kuanr
Rahul Kuanr |  August 16th, 2017