Selenium is the secret ingredient that makes your antioxidants work better


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Photo: Getty Images / Nakhorn Yuangkratoke - Eyeem

Certain things in life are just better together: chocolate and peanut butter, you and your BFF, iron and vitamin C. And another power duo that deserves major recognition is selenium and antioxidants.

Woah, selenium what? While not given as much press time as magnesium or calcium, selenium is another essential trace mineral that your bod needs to be in tip-top shape. It’s found in soil, water, and foods like brazil nuts, eggs, tuna, cod, poultry, and mushrooms. While overdoing it on selenium can be dangerous (more on that later), for the most part, selenium can work wonders for the human body. Here’s everything you need to know about this super mineral.

Keep reading to find out the top selenium benefits.

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Photo: Getty Images / Claudia Totir

1. It helps antioxidants do their job.

“In humans, selenium functions as a cofactor for antioxidant enzymes including glutathione peroxidase, whose main role is to protect our tissues from oxidative damage,” says nutritionist Tamar Samuels, RDN. Basically, your body needs selenium in order to get the most benefits out of certain antioxidants that fight inflammation and free radical damage in your body.

2. It’s important for a healthy immune system.

The mineral also helps facilitate cell growth, says Samuels, and is an important part of immune system health. “Selenium is also needed for the proper functioning of neutrophils, macrophages, NK cells, T lymphocytes, and other immune mechanisms.” All of these parts play an important role in protecting your body from infection and disease. Take that, cold season.

3. It may boost thyroid health.

Selenium helps your body metabolize thyroid hormones, which help regulate your metabolism, digestive function, and mood. For anyone who’s ever struggled with thyroid issues, you may want to allow selenium to be your new best friend—because it can help a lot. “Clinical research shows that selenium taken in combination with thyroid medication helps to lower autoimmune thyroid antibodies,” says Samuels. She says the mineral might also help improve postpartum thyroid function.

4. It might help fight cancer.

Remember how selenium helps antioxidants do their job? That may translate into some cancer-fighting benefits, too. “Selenium may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer,” says Samuels—although a 2016 study found that the mineral offers only moderate benefits in this area. She also notes one study which found that selenium may decrease cancer risk and overall mortality in men.

Is there such a thing as too much selenium?

In a word, yes. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of selenium is 55 milligrams per day, although a 2012 study found that most people get more than they need from diet and supplementation.  People can safely take up to 400 milligrams per day, says Samuels, but anything more than that can be harmful. Consuming too much selenium is linked with a number of health consequences, she says, including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dermatitis, nail changes, fatigue, irritability, alopecia, impaired endocrine function, neurotoxicity, and weight loss.

And if you suffer from an autoimmune disease, be careful. “Selenium might have immunostimulant effects, meaning it could worsen an autoimmune disease by stimulating disease activity,” says Samuels.

Another thing to be wary of? Adverse effects on male fertility. “High amounts of selenium, including through getting it through diet, might decrease sperm motility potentially impacting male fertility,” explains Samuels.

So if you’re already getting a lot of selenium through your diet (like eating lots of poultry and eggs), it may be best to keep it that way to avoid overdoing it. A separate selenium supplement probably isn’t necessary for most people, unless their doctor recommends it. Which is great, because I have so many vitamins already in my lineup as it is.

While we’re on the subject of supplements, here’s the lowdown on why omega-3s are so freaking great for your bod. And here’s what you should know before getting crazy with medicinal mushrooms and herbs.

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