Keep reading to discover the role selenium plays in maintaining thyroid function.
In this article:
- What Is Selenium?
- Selenium Deficiency in Thyroid Patients
- What Are the Benefits of Selenium?
- More Benefits of Selenium
- How Much Selenium Is Necessary for Thyroid Health?
- What Causes Selenium Deficiency?
- Selenium-Rich Foods
- More Selenium Sources
Selenium and Thyroid Function | What’s the Connection?
What Is Selenium?
Selenium is a trace mineral present in food, water, and soil. While only small amounts of this mineral are needed by the body, it is essential in performing bodily functions including metabolism.
The majority of selenium found in the body is acquired through diet. Some selenium-rich foods include poultry, liver, fish, crab, and wheat.
The amount of selenium in these food sources depend on where they are grown or raised. This is especially true for those that are grown in soils.
For example, the amount of selenium present in wheat will depend on the selenium level of the soil it grew in. The Pacific Northwest and Eastern Coastal Plain in the United States record the lowest selenium levels.
This is why residents in these areas naturally acquire selenium through their diet, ranging between 60 and 90 mcg per day. Selenium deficiency can lead to health problems including under-active thyroid, heart complications, high blood pressure, and abnormal cholesterol levels.
Selenium Deficiency in Thyroid Patients
People may not find the selenium element in many food labels. Some health articles may not discuss it.
It doesn’t change the fact that the mineral is a vital nutrient. It is even more important for people with thyroid conditions.
This micronutrient can help mitigate thyroid disease symptoms. The mineral may also promote healthy hormone production of the glands.
A working thyroid gland depends on an adequate intake of the mineral.
The nutrient, along with iodine, is critical in the production of thyroid hormones. These hormones then regulate many systems throughout the body.
A functioning thyroid contributes to healthy metabolism and proper digestion. The body also needs it for muscle control.
It also promotes brain function, strong bones, strong heart rate, and mood regulation.
Low hormone production may lead to hypothyroidism, which is a medical condition characterized by an underactive thyroid gland.
The symptoms can include fatigue, weight gain, depression, and memory loss. Muscle aches, muscle spasms, and cold intolerance may also be signs of hypothyroidism.
Too much thyroid hormone may result in hyperthyroidism, which means the thyroid gland is overactive.
People with the disease can lose too much weight or feel hotter than usual. They also tend to have trouble sleeping.
One of the classic symptoms is heart palpitation or a “jittery” feeling.
Some studies found it may modulate the way the thyroid produces the hormones.
It works together with iodine. It is the principal mineral necessary to produce the thyroid hormones.
In fact, without it, the body won’t be able to synthesize iodine to create these hormones.
What Are the Benefits of Selenium?
1. Antioxidant Properties
Antioxidants are compounds present in certain foods that help prevent free radical damage. Free radicals are toxic waste products of chemical processes such as metabolism.
2. Improved Heart Health
An analysis of observational studies revealed that the risk of heart disease reduced by 24% following a 50% boost in blood selenium levels.
The mineral also showed potential in reducing inflammation markers, which contribute to the development of heart disease. A separate review of studies showed that heart disease sufferers decreased their levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammatory marker, after taking selenium supplements.
It also boosted the levels of glutathione peroxidase, an antioxidant enzyme that protects organisms against oxidative damage, according to the same review.
You can keep your heart health in check by adding more selenium-rich foods to your diet. These include:
- Brazil nuts
3. Immune System Boost
This favorable effect has been attributed to the mineral’s ability to reduce oxidative stress, preventing inflammation and improving immunity.
Studies found a link between high blood selenium levels and improved immune response. On the other hand, selenium deficiency was found to slow down immune response as it harms the function of immune cells.
In addition, selenium supplements were shown to help boost the immune system of people with hepatitis C, tuberculosis, and influenza.
4. Lower Risk of Cognitive Decline
Oxidative stress is also one of the causes of neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. In one study, it was found that Alzheimer’s disease patients have low selenium levels.
Other studies show that antioxidant vitamins and minerals including selenium help improve the memory of Alzheimer’s patients. What’s more, separate research found a link between the Mediterranean diet and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
This diet is rich in foods that have high selenium levels, including nuts and seafood.
5. Better Thyroid Health
Selenium also plays a crucial role in thyroid health by supporting the production of thyroid hormones and the functioning of the thyroid gland. The antioxidant-mineral also helps to protect the thyroid against oxidative damage.
Another observational study found an association between low selenium levels and a higher risk of hypothyroidism and autoimmune thyroiditis.
More Benefits of Selenium
Selenium does more than encouraging healthy thyroid function. That’s why it’s also ideal even for people who have no thyroid issues.
It provides antioxidant protection, for one. Antioxidants help prevent the body from developing serious health issues. These include cancer, heart disease, strokes, and mental decline.
A healthier immune system also prevents colds and flu, as well as premature skin aging.
People with thyroid issues often have problems with their immune system. They may have lower immunity, so they become vulnerable to more health problems.
That makes the micronutrient’s antioxidant protection a kind of “one-two punch” when it comes to boosting health in thyroid patients.
Most of all, it helps regulate the iodine levels. Too much of it may damage the thyroid glands.
How Much Selenium Is Necessary for Thyroid Health?
The good news is, most Americans get enough of it from their regular diet. Those with thyroid diseases, though, may have lower levels of the micronutrient.
If thyroid issues are a concern, it’s especially important to know how much is necessary.
This knowledge enables them to choose more foods high in selenium. They may also consider thyroid-supporting supplements.
Toddlers need about 20 micrograms (mcg) of it each day. Children under 9 need 30 mcg, and preteens must have 40 mcg.
From the teen years into adulthood, about 55 mcg is adequate for most people. The exception to this recommendation is women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
In these cases, the required amount is 60 to 70 mcg daily.
What Causes Selenium Deficiency?
One of the common reasons for the deficiency is poor dietary choices. It may also be prevalent in countries with low amounts of the mineral in the soil.
Some health conditions interfere with the body’s ability to absorb the nutrient. These include Crohn’s disease and other digestive issues.
Crohn’s Disease Definition: It is a chronic inflammation of certain parts of the bowel system such as the colon. It may result in the swelling, redness, and ulcerations of the affected organs.
The same is true for autoimmune diseases and immune dysfunction conditions, including HIV.
Taking certain medications can also cause the depletion of the micronutrient.
Other medical treatments also carry the risk of decreased selenium. These include gastric bypass surgery and dialysis.
Even before doctors can detect thyroid issues, selenium deficiency symptoms may be apparent. It can result in weight gain, frequent illness, hair loss, and fatigue.
Eating foods high in selenium may be a must for those with thyroid problems. The amount of the mineral these plants have depends on the quality of the soil.
For people in North America, this is rarely an issue. One exception may be eating too many food sources from Asia or Eastern Europe.
Brazil nuts tend to be the highest source of plant-based foods with selenium. In fact, a handful of them provides about seven times the recommended dietary allowance (RDA).
Other non-animal sources of selenium include enriched macaroni, oatmeal, and brown rice. You can also get them from puffed wheat cereal, whole wheat bread, and spinach.
Canned baked beans are also good sources. All these foods offer at least 10% of the RDA for selenium.
Animal products are also reliable high-selenium foods. Yellowfin tuna offers more than 100% of the RDA.
In descending order, other choices providing at least 10% of the RDA of this vital nutrient are:
- Beef Liver
- Cottage cheese
- Ground beef
More Selenium Sources
Some people may not be able to get enough of the mineral from their diet. They may live in a region with low selenium in the soil, which affects the amounts present in plant-based foods.
Animal sources from these areas can also have less of the mineral. This happens because they eat grains in low-selenium soils.
Vegans and vegetarians may have issues with the consumption of selenium. It’s possible they can’t reach the recommended intake of 55 mcg each day.
So do some thyroid patients. That’s why doctors may recommend supplements containing more selenium.
Selenium is a vital trace mineral, especially for thyroid function. It doesn’t mean people can overdo it.
Excessive amounts of the nutrient can result in rashes, nausea, and diarrhea. They may also lead to unhealthy hair and nails, and more severe symptoms.
People with thyroid issues can manage the problem.
They need the help of their doctors, though, particularly an endocrinologist. Only these physicians can tell the best amounts of the mineral for their health.
Sometimes the diets may limit selenium intake. The tests may also show a nutritional deficiency.
In this case, a combination of dietary changes and supplements may be necessary. They can make a big difference in boosting thyroid health.
In a nutshell, while there are impressive selenium benefits, you should not exceed its recommended daily intake. Ask your doctor how you can maximize these incredible selenium health benefits, especially if you have special medical needs.
Are you taking selenium? Tell us how it affects your health in the comments section below.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on February 26, 2019, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.