Although you only need it in small amounts, selenium plays a key role in your health. Sodium selenite, a form of selenium, is present in plant foods, in some meat and seafood, and in supplements. Selenium helps activate antioxidant enzymes and supports the function of several tissues in your body, and sodium selenite is linked to an array of health benefits.
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It is believed that selenium can help fight cancer by boosting the antioxidant activity of certain enzymes, improving your immune system, slowing the metabolism of carcinogens, inhibiting tumor cell growth and increasing cancer cell death. Researchers at Cornell University published a study in “Biomedical and Environmental Sciences” in 1997 that was originally focused on the recurrence of different types of skin cancers in seven dermatology clinics from 1983 through 1993. Although selenium had no effect on skin cancer recurrence, selenium supplements significantly reduced the development and total death from all cancers.
Benefits for Diabetes
The use of selenium in treating diabetes has been controversial, since some studies have shown that selenium has a protective effect while others have indicated that selenium raised diabetes risk. More recent research, such as one study published in “Nutrition & Metabolism” in March 2010, reported that older men who had high levels of selenium in their blood had a significantly reduced risk of developing blood sugar imbalances over the following nine years. There was no such reduced risk for women with elevated selenium levels. An April 2011 study published in the “European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences” found that low doses of insulin combined with selenium supplements normalized blood glucose levels in diabetic rats.
Lowering HIV Risk
Although there are no cures for HIV/AIDS infections, the disease can lead to malnutrition and a selenium deficiency. The antioxidant effects of selenium help protect cells and may help slow progression of the disease by increasing the enzymatic defense systems in HIV-infected patients. After observing 24 children with HIV over five years, a study published in the “Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes and Human Retrovirology” in 1999 showed that the children with low selenium levels died at a younger age, suggesting a selenium deficiency was associated with faster disease progression.
Treating Skin Conditions
Cellulitis is a skin condition that causes painful blisters and fever that can occur as a side effect to other diseases. Researchers in Australia discovered in a study published in “Anticancer Research” in 1998 that a topical sodium selenite application reduced the incidence of cellulitis among cancer patients by 100 percent.
Combating Thyroid Disease
One of the many jobs selenium performs in your body is to maintain proper thyroid function by regulating thyroid hormones. A team in Greece conducted a review of studies using selenium to treat patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a condition in which your immune system attacks your thyroid gland. The results, published in October 2010 in the journal “Thyroid,” showed that selenium supplements for three months significantly lowered thyroid autoantibodies and boosted patients’ feelings of well-being.
Considerations and Risks
While selenium supplements offer a wealth of potential benefits, you should only take them under medical supervision. Too much selenium -- more than 400 micrograms per day -- causes selenosis, a toxicity linked to bad breath, skin rashes and abnormal function of the nervous system. Instead, you can safely get selenium from a variety of foods, including Brazil nuts, meats and eggs. Aim for an intake of 55 micrograms daily to prevent a deficiency.