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Selenium & Glutathione

By Alison Smith

Selenium, a trace mineral, and glutathione, an antioxidant, play an important role in maintaining a healthy body. Selenium must be consumed in food; however, the body naturally produces glutathione. Both are available in supplement form, but glutathione is not easily absorbed; therefore, consult a medical doctor or naturopathic physician before taking either supplement.


Selenium supports the immune system and thyroid function and acts as an antioxidant. It is needed for proper enzymatic activities that protect the body against cancer. It promotes the production of killer T-cells that engulf harmful foreign substances that enter the body and act, in conjunction with vitamin E, as an antioxidant that scavenges the body for free radicals that damage healthy tissue. Of course, you can consume too much of a good thing; selenium is toxic in doses over 1,000 micrograms per day. Symptoms of an overdose include tingling in the extremities, nausea, vomiting, cracked skin and nails, irritability and garlic breath, according to the University of Arizona, Tucson.


Glutathione is an antioxidant that the body produces naturally. It’s also found in foods such as fruit, vegetables and meat. It is composed of two amino acids -- glutamic acid and cysteine -- and an organic compound, glycine. Glutathione protects the body from harmful effects of stress, pollution, infection, drugs, radiation and aging, according to the Genetics Home Reference.

Glutathione supplements are available in capsule form, but oral glutathione is not absorbed well by the intestine. For maximum glutathione supplementation, you need to see a naturopathic doctor for a glutathione prescription to take it intravenously or as an injection. The naturopathic doctor could also recommend breathing glutathione in through a nebulizer, according to eMedTV. In this instance the supplement is absorbed into the bloodstream by way of the lungs. Glutathione is not an FDA-approved medication; therefore, it is important to consult a naturopathic doctor or medical doctor before taking this supplement.

Health Conditions

Risk of death from cancer increases with selenium deficiency. Selenium consumption is also beneficial in the prevention of prostate cancer for person with low selenium levels, according to the University Maryland Medical Center. Glutathione, on the other hand, can reduce the adverse effects of chemotherapy and increases survival rates of women with ovarian cancer, reports Although selenium and glutathione are purported to treat or prevent a wide range of other conditions and diseases, from rheumatoid arthritis to male infertility, the scientific basis for these claims is limited.


According to the Linus Pauling Institute, there are no overt signs of selenium deficiency, but if present, it can increase the affects of stress. Those at risk of deficiency include patients with Crohn’s disease or metabolic disorders or those who are receiving intravenous nutrition. If deficiency progresses, cardiomyopathy and cartilage breakdown can occur. Glutathione deficiency is rare, but can be caused by an abnormality in glutathione synthetase -- the enzyme that produces glutathione. Without adequate glutathione during fetal development and childhood, neurological conditions occur such as seizures and mental impairment; movements also become slower, according to Genetics Home Reference.

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