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What Does Selenium Do in the Body?

By Marie Dannie

Selenium, an essential mineral and antioxidant, is especially potent when it is paired with vitamin E. Antioxidants are elements that protect your body’s cells from the dangers and damage of free radicals. Selenium also assists in thyroid function and may help with lowering LDL, or "bad" cholesterol. Low selenium levels are associated with heart failure, rheumatoid arthritis and certain kinds of cancer.

Provides Antioxidant Benefits

Protecting your body against damage from free radicals, antioxidants such as selenium protect your cells from both toxins produced by your body's natural processes and those found in the environment. According to MedlinePlus, antioxidants can protect cells against radiation and tobacco smoke, as well as free radicals that are naturally produced through the digestive process. Antioxidants may also help prevent certain health complications, such as heart disease and cancer.

Promotes Thyroid Health

According to MedlinePlus, taking 200 micrograms of selenium per day may be effective in treating autoimmune thyroiditis, if selenium is taken alongside thyroid medication. Additionally, in a study on autoimmune thyroiditis published in "Thyroid" in 2010, participants who took selenium supplements regularly for three months were significantly more likely to report an improved mood or a general sense of well-being than those who didn't.

Lowers Cholesterol

Certain selenium supplements may help to lower low-density lipoprotein -- also known as "bad" cholesterol -- levels if taken regularly. According to MedlinePlus, the selenium supplements SelenoPrecise, Pharma Nord and Denmark, each of which contain between 100 and 200 micrograms of selenium, may help lower LDL levels if they are taken every day for a period of six months. However, this treatment may be effective only for people who already have low selenium levels.

Low Selenium Levels and Health Conditions

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, low selenium levels have been associated with people who have rheumatoid arthritis and certain kinds of cancer. However, the specific relationship between these two remains unclear. Low selenium levels can also contribute to heart failure, and insufficient amounts of selenium can make atherosclerosis worse.

Recommended Dietary Allowance

The recommended dietary allowance for selenium is 20 to 40 micrograms for children between the ages of 1 and 13, and 55 micrograms for individuals 14 and above. The RDA for pregnant and breastfeeding women is 60 and 70 micrograms, respectively.

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