by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
Selenium is one of nature’s best kept secrets. We need only small amounts of this amazing mineral, but it has huge effects on our health. Selenium protects us against many health problems which are associated with the aging process, such as certain types of cancer and osteoarthritis. More than that though, it’s vital to the normal functioning of our thyroid. Since women are more prone to thyroid problems, selenium is especially important to us.
Selenium is one of those nutrients that when used in the right amounts in your food it can make big changes and that is really exciting. It reminds us how vitally important our diets are to our overall health and well-being. So now let’s take a quick look together at this important nutrient.
How does selenium affect my thyroid health?
If your level of selenium is low, your thyroid will have do its best to work harder to make it’s hormones, and your body will also have a more difficult job changing those hormones into a form your cells can use. This happens because selenium is a chief component of the molecules which are necessary for your body to be able to create and use thyroid hormones, called seleno-proteins.
What do these molecules do?
- They directly regulate thyroid hormone production
- They support the conversion of thyroxine (T4) to triiodothyronine (T3).
- They protect the thyroid tissues whenever it is affected by stress – this happens almost constantly!
Symptoms of low selenium levels
- Muscle pain or weakness
- Discoloration of hair or skin
- Whitening of the beds of your fingernails
In addition to assisting with production thyroid hormones, selenium is also critical in the regulation of thyroid hormonal levels. Several of the enzymes arranged around selenium are key factors in assuring that thyroid hormone levels remain balanced. Some of these enzymes, called seleno-de-iodinases help to keep T3 at an appropriate level in liver, kidney, thyroid and brain cells. Glutathione peroxidase is another enzyme which helps to limit T4 when its levels go on the high side.
Our overall health can suffer if our body is unable to maintain the right levels of essential thyroid hormones, due to a lack of the selenium needed to create these enzymes.
Selenium and iodine: thyroid’s natural partners
The problems which selenium deficiency can cause are made more serious when another key nutrient, iodine, is low as well. Iodine is a nutrient that is much better known for its role in thyroid health. Selenium is crucial in aiding the body to recycle iodine. A selenium deficiency coupled with an iodine deficiency is likely to lead to thyroid imbalance.
An enlarged thyroid is commonly known as a goiter. This is one of the more serious forms of thyroid imbalance. Many people who are diagnosed with a goiter have a deficiency of iodine, but research has shown that some may have a significant selenium deficiency as well. It’s vital to treat both deficits in order to reestablish thyroid stability.
For more information, click here for our informative article, “Iodine And The Thyroid – Worth A Second Glance”.
Sources of selenium
In the United States, most people get selenium from their diet. The top food sources include Brazil nuts, oysters, tuna, whole wheat bread, seeds, pork, and beef, also onions, garlic, vegetables in the broccoli family such as kale (which should always be cooked or steamed), cabbage and cauliflower. Other protein sources include eggs, turkey, chicken, lamb and many kinds of seafood. Women who have digestive problems are more likely to develop selenium deficiency, as are those who don’t consume a varied diet which contains selenium-rich foods and this includes many American women who eat the standard American diet.
Making sure you get adequate selenium
One of the first things to understand about selenium is that it’s very easy to get an adequate amount through your diet. Eating foods like those listed above are the best way to ensure your thyroid health.
The problem though is this – the amount of selenium you get from your diet can tend to be inconsistent, especially if you have digestive problems, and 80% of our patients do. If you can’t eat foods on a regular basis that are high in selenium, or if you have a GI condition which impairs your ability to absorb nutrients, a good alternative is to use a high-quality multivitamin which includes selenium. A single-element supplement isn’t usually recommended because a combination product which is carefully formulated helps to ensure selenium is appropriately coupled with the right levels of other nutrients such as iodine.
A daily dose of around 200 mcg (micrograms) of selenium is just right for most people, but always check with your healthcare provider first, to make sure what amount is right for you. It’s important to have your practitioner monitor your thyroid levels if you have ever been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, Grave’s disease (hyperthyroidism), Hashimoto’s autoimmune thyroiditis or any other form of thyroid disease as they can change with the right nutrient support.