Your patients probably are pretty knowledgeable about the benefits of most antioxidants.
However, your patients may not know about one of the most powerful antioxidants available. Numerous studies have shown that selenium can offer protective benefits against a number of chronic conditions that are all linked to cell damage as a result of free radicals.
Read further to see the various benefits selenium can provide, as well as some foods that are naturally high in selenium.
Selenium’s antioxidant ability to reduce inflammation may play a part in its ability to protect the body against certain types of cancer. A 2016 article in the journal Scientific Reports examined the association between selenium and cancer risk.1 The researchers pooled the results from 69 smaller studies to look for a commonality among the results.
While there was a positive relationship between high selenium levels and protection against cancer, the researchers noted that selenium from supplements did not have as high an effect, so they recommended only food sources. Furthermore, selenium was more effective in protecting against breast, lung, esophageal, gastric, and prostate cancer than it was against colorectal, bladder, or skin cancer.1
2. Coronary artery disease
Selenium may have similar protective capabilities against coronary artery disease. A 2006 article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also pooled the results from smaller studies to determine if there was a link between low selenium levels and an increased risk of coronary artery disease.2
The researchers found that most of the studies showed an inverse relationship between selenium levels and the risk of coronary artery disease. Furthermore, a 50 percent increase in selenium levels in the blood was associated with a 24 percent reduction in coronary artery disease.2
3. Asthma symptoms
Similar to heart disease and cancer, asthma is another chronic disease that is an inflammatory condition. When the airway becomes inflamed, it narrows, leading to symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing. Asthma is also thought to be linked to oxidative stress, as a 2011 study in Molecular Aspects of Medicine proposes by using mouse models.3
Furthermore, another 2011 paper published in the Annals of Clinical Biochemistry found an inverse relationship between asthma symptoms and selenium levels, similar to that noted above for coronary artery disease.4 Patients with chronic asthma have lower blood levels of selenium than those who do not, but raising selenium levels led to better lung function and fewer symptoms.
Foods high in selenium
Selenium can be found in high concentrations in a number of foods, but Brazil nuts are considered to have the highest percentage. However, you should recommend that your patients try to get their selenium from a variety of other food sources, as there may be individual differences in levels between Brazil nut crops. Other good sources include:
- Yellowfin tuna
- Sunflower seeds
- Shiitake mushrooms
One interesting connection between cancer, coronary artery disease, and asthma is that all involve some sort of inflammatory process, combined with oxidative stress.
Given the unusually high amount of antioxidants in selenium-rich foods, as well as selenium supplements, this may be the time to talk to your patients with chronic inflammatory health conditions about ways to boost their selenium intake.
- Cai X, Wang C, Yu W, et al. Selenium exposure and cancer risk: an updated meta-analysis and meta-regression. Science Reports 2016;6:19213.
- Flores-Mateo G, Navas-Acien A, Pastor-Barriuso R, Guallar E. Selenium and coronary heart disease: A meta-analysis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2006;84(4):762-773.
- Norton RL, Hoffmann PR. Selenium and asthma. Molecular Aspects of Medicine 2011;33(1):98-106.
- Guo CH, Liu PJ, Hsia S, et al. Role of certain trace minerals in oxidative stress, inflammation, CD4/CD8 lymphocyte ratios and lung function in asthmatic patients. Annals of Clinical Biochemistry 2011 Jul;48(Pt 4):344-351.