I keep reading about selenium - what does this vitamin do and where can I get it

01:00 Mon 18th Jun 2001 |

asks Johnjo:
Selenium is not a vitamin, it's a mineral. It was 1973 before its vital role as a very powerful antioxidant was discovered.

Q. What's an antioxidant
Antioxidants protect your body from the effect of free radicals. Free radicals are created by the body's use of oxygen: too many cause ageing, damage and disease. Antioxidants include bioflavonoids, vitamins C and E, lycopene, beta-carotene (which the body converts into vitamin A), and the minerals selenium and zinc.

Q. What else does selenium do
Where do I start The body needs it to make proteins, for healthy liver function, to boost the immune system, and help remove heavy metals from the body. Also:

  • According to recent research, selenium can help overcome male infertility. In one study, men who had been taking selenium and other vitamins and minerals for three months saw their sperm motility increase by as much as 80%. When the supplements were stopped, the sperm quality fell.
  • US scientists discovered that the flu virus gets more potent after being caught by mice which are selenium-deficient. If the same is true in humans, flu epidemics could be made worse by diet deficiencies.
  • Selenium has an effect on mood. Research shows that the mood of people on a low selenium diet gets much worse, while people on a high selenium diet have a significantly better state of mind. In May this year, the Centre for Nutrition and Food Safety said that there had been a sharp drop in the amount of selenium eaten in the UK since we started getting more of our wheat from Europe, instead of North America. This could be linked to rising levels of depression and irritability in the UK.

Q. How much selenium do you need
It's a micronutrient - adults only need 60-70 millionths of a gram (micrograms or mcg) as a daily requirement. Too much is toxic.

Q. How do you know if you are suffering from a deficiency
According to a Government report, most people in this country aren't getting enough. The average person is only getting 34mcg a day. Signs of a deficiency are prematurely greying hair, heart disease, ageing and a weakened immune system.

Q. What are the best natural sources
How much you find in food depends on how much there was in the soil it was grown in. Generally, the best food sources: brazil nuts, wheatgerm, molasses, sunflower seeds, rice, wholewheat bread, dairy products, eggs, tomatoes, broccoli, kidney, liver and shellfish. You cannot get selenium poisoning from natural sources.

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