With winter here, you’re more likely to be exposed to illness. In addition to COVID-19 and the flu, there are also colds and other viruses to fight off. Washing your hands and following other health guidelines can only get you so far—at a certain point, it’s up to your immune system to protect you from getting sick.
If you’ve been feeling under the weather, or simply want to boost your immunity, it’s worth checking to see whether you’re getting enough selenium. Selenium is an important mineral that can increase your immunity and help maintain your metabolism. It also helps antioxidants perform their role, and can protect against inflammation and free radical damage. Research has shown that consuming selenium fights off autoimmune diseases, thyroid disorders and certain types of cancer, while supporting your fertility and reproductive system. Not bad for a mineral many people aren’t even aware of!
Here's how to get selenium in your diet, and how it will help keep you healthy.
Where to get your daily dose
Selenium can be found in soil, our drinking water, certain foods and supplements. It’s very unusual for Americans to have selenium deficiencies. However, certain conditions like Crohn’s disease, HIV and other disorders which impede nutrient absorption may lead to lower selenium levels.
Certain foods have high levels of selenium, including Brazil nuts, fish, pork, beef, chicken, turkey, ham, cottage cheese, eggs, brown rice, mushrooms and oatmeal. Your regular diet should offer plenty of selenium without having to resort to supplements—but people with limited diets and the conditions noted above may want to discuss adding a supplement with their doctor.
Finally, it’s important to note that too much selenium can be toxic. People over 14 need about 55 mcg per day, and if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you’ll need 60 mcg.
How selenium boosts your immunity
Here’s how selenium can help you stay healthy:
- Antioxidant: Antioxidants fight against oxidative stress, which occurs when there’s an imbalance between free radical and antioxidant activity in your body. Free radical damage can lead to problems like diabetes, inflammation, heart disease, high blood pressure, premature aging, neurodegenerative diseases and cancer. However, selenium works with other antioxidants to balance your system and protect against free radical damage and disease.
- Banish viruses: Your immune system relies on selenium to function properly. Selenium counteracts virus development, including HIV. In fact, research has shown that patients with HIV can slow down its progression into AIDS.
- Boosts cognitive health: Preventing neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s is key. Selenium supplements can help ward off cognitive decline and disease, thanks to its role in helping antioxidants function properly.
- Fights cancer: If you have a weak immune system or a family history of cancer, selenium may be helpful reducing the risk. It appears to support antioxidant function, slow down cancer progression and may even protect DNA, which lowers the risk of cell mutation.
- Improves fertility: Selenium is necessary for sperm motility and blood flow, two contributing factors to infertility and conception. Selenium is used in the mitochondria of the sperm, and may even affect their behavior as they seek an egg. Research has shown that high and low selenium concentrations can have a negative effect on sperm count, so it’s important to get the recommended daily intake, and no more.
- Protect your heart: Selenium can help increase blood flow, and is thought to boost heart health by fighting inflammation and reducing oxidative stress. Low selenium levels have been shown to correlate with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and heart attack.
- Reduces asthma symptoms: Some studies have linked low selenium levels with chronic asthma. As patients with chronic asthma improve their selenium intake, they experience fewer asthma-related symptoms. More research is needed, however, before it can be considered an appropriate treatment for lung conditions.
- Regulate your thyroid: Many people suffer from imbalanced thyroids. Selenium helps produce thyroid hormones, protects the thyroid from disease-causing antibodies and regulates its reactive oxygen production. It may be particularly useful for those who have Hashimoto’s and Grave’s disease.
Ultimately, selenium plays an important role in many of the body’s functions—but it’s very important to stay within a doctor-recommended or recommended dietary intake range. Both high and low selenium levels can have negative effects on the body, so be sure to talk to your doctor about whether you need a supplement. Otherwise, eat plenty of selenium-rich foods, and know that you’re boosting your immunity every time you make a meal.