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Selenium is an incredibly important trace element essential to human health, found in the diet and stored in muscle tissue for later use. 

Selenium is used by the body in over 25 different proteins essential to human health.  These proteins have many different functions, including managing the chemical reactions that enable cells to function at all.

Autoimmune diseases are often associated with low levels of selenium. According to an analysis of 9,639 people, higher levels of selenium in blood serum is linked to a lower risk of lupus. This implies that selenium might have a protective effect, reducing lupus symptoms. It is unclear whether low selenium is the cause of autoimmune disease or a side effect. However, supplementing the diet with additional selenium seems to have an anti-inflammatory effect. 

Selenium and other essential nutrients can be taken in very effectively through a balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables. Foods rich in selenium include brazil nuts, seafood, eggs, brown rice, and meat. These can all be part of a well-balanced diet. 

So, is taking supplements of selenium a good idea for people with lupus?

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What Does Selenium do in the body?

Selenium-containing proteins protect cells against oxidative damage (peroxidases) and repair oxidative damage (antioxidants.) Since oxidation is of the main methods of attack for autoimmune diseases, this can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cognitive impairment such as brain fog and confusion, which can be symptoms of lupus.

However, of particular interest to lupuswarriors, selenium is essential to thyroid health, and used by the immune system as part of its regulation system. Read more about thyroid health and lupus here. Because it promotes a healthy immune system, it might have both anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. 

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Selenium inhibits inflammation and may encourage proper regulation of the immune system. Selenium also appears to be key to controlling B-cells, which, in a healthy immune system. When not properly regulated, the B cells that normally target viruses and cancer cells start attacking healthy, leading to autoimmune disease.   

Supplementing with selenium holds back B-cells from being activated, turning into the various types of B-cells, and maturing into active components of the immune system. The fewer B-cells activated, the less inflammation occurs, which reduces symptoms of lupus. When the immune system is regulated properly, fewer autoimmune cells are produced.

Because one of its proteins is an antioxidant, selenium also protects the body from DNA damage, reducing the risks of cancer and other issues.

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Should you take Selenium Supplements?

Many people with lupus take supplements such as fish oil and vitamin Dto make sure that they are getting enough nutrients associated with immune system health and healing. Getting these nutrients through ones diet is considered to be superior, but supplements can be important if it is difficult to find or eat foods rich in those nutrients. 

The recommended intake for Selenium is 55mcg for adults, though this is higher (60mcg) during pregnancy and (70mcg) during lactation. People taking selenium supplements should be very careful. It is difficult to exceed the optimal limit of selenium (400mcg) and overdose through the diet, but concentrated supplements can cause selenium levels in the body to rise to extremes. 

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Symptoms of a selenium overdose include:

  • Nausea
  • Tooth decay
  • brittle nails
  • bad, garlic-y breath
  • a bad, metallic taste in the mouth 
  • fatigue
  • mood issues
  • hair loss
  • skin lesions and rashes

Extreme overdoses of selenium can cause heart and kidney failure, too. Because it is stored in muscle tissue, it can also take up to 120 days for selenium to leave the body. It is for this reason that many supplement users recommend not “megadosing” to make up for a deficiency. Instead, if you take supplements of selenium, take a low or normal dose daily and allow it to build up in your system.

Selenium also interacts with common lupus medications such as corticosteroids and chemotherapy drugs. 

Overall, it is best to get selenium through diet, with Brazil nuts being a very rich (and vegan) source of the molecule. However, for people with nut allergies who do not eat meat or fish, careful supplementation may be a good idea.

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