Selenium Among Leading Nutritional Supplements

Visit any vitamin section in the local grocery store or pharmacy and you’ll see a wide variety of nutritional supplements and herbal products designed to help people look better, feel healthier, and have more energy. Selenium is likely to be on the shelves. In fact, this mineral ranks as the 10th most popular supplement in the United States, behind vitamin E, ginkgo, chondroitin/glucosamine, calcium with vitamin D, kava, garlic, St. John’s wort, and 5HTP, according to a recent consumer survey conducted by NBTY Inc.

In addition to its reputation as a potential cancer preventative, selenium is reported to protect against heart disease, arthritis, and accelerated aging. It may also relieve depression. Articles about these and other benefits of selenium, which takes its name from the Greek word Selênê (moon) for its pasty white color, have been appearing in the popular press recently.

An article in the December 1998 issue of Natural Health points out selenium’s essential nature. Since the human body does not produce selenium, it must be obtained through diet. The best sources are tuna, king crab, halibut, soybeans, cereal grains, and Brazil nuts. (See Table 1.) According to Natural Health, experts recommend taking 50-200 mcg of organic forms of the mineral.

Both the July-August and October 1998 issues of Health contained articles about selenium offering hope for preventing prostate, lung, and colon cancers. Geographic surveys indicate that people living in regions where the soil is rich in selenium have fewer cancers that people living elsewhere. The magazine suggests that readers speak to their doctors about whether family history or lifestyle habits put them at risk for cancer and whether selenium supplementation is warranted.

Prevention’s April 1998 Consumer’s Guide to Supplements says that although selenium shows great promise in fighting cancer, people with abnormal kidney function should talk to their physician before supplementing with minerals.

In his book Eight Weeks to Optimum Health, Andrew Weil recommends taking selenium with vitamin E since they enhance each other’s absorption. However, Weil does not recommend taking vitamin C at the same time since some forms of vitamin C and selenium interfere with each other’s absorption.