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Selenium Requirements and Dietary Sources

Mineral Guide

By

Updated July 10, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Fish is an excellent source of selenium
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Selenium is a trace mineral, which means that your body only needs a small amount. That doesn't mean that it's not important -- selenium is crucial for good health.

Selenium and proteins form antioxidants called selenoproteins that help protect the cells in your body from free radical damage. Selenium is also essential for normal thyroid function, reproduction and DNA synthesis.

Selenium is found in many plant-based foods, such as whole grains and nuts, as well as most animal-based foods. Seafood and organ meats are the richest sources, followed by meats, cereals and dairy. Eggs, fish and poultry contribute a significant amount to the average diet as well.

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies sets the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) for vitamins and minerals. The DRIs for selenium are based on age -- plus women who are pregnant or breastfeeding need a little more. 

These DRIs reflect the amount of selenium needed by a person of good health -- if you have any medical conditions, you might want to speak to your health care provider about your dietary needs, including selenium.

Dietary Reference Intakes

1 to 3 years: 20 micrograms per day
4 to 8 years: 30 micrograms per day
9 to 13 years: 40 micrograms per day
14+ years: 55 micrograms per day
Women who are pregnant: 60 micrograms per day
Women who are breastfeeding: 70 micrograms per day

Some research indicates there may be a lower risk of some forms of cancer and heart disease among people who consume large amounts of selenium in their diets. But much more research is needed to determine if taking selenium supplements are beneficial.

Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows dietary supplements that contain selenium to make the following claims:

Selenium may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. Scientific evidence concerning this claim is inconclusive. Based on its review, FDA does not agree that selenium may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.

Selenium may reduce the risk of colon and rectal cancer. Scientific evidence concerning this claim is inconclusive. Based on its review, FDA does not agree that selenium may reduce the risk of colon and rectal cancer.

Selenium may reduce the risk of colon cancer. Scientific evidence concerning this claim is inconclusive. Based on its review, FDA does not agree that selenium may reduce the risk of colon cancer.

Selenium may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Scientific evidence concerning this claim is inconclusive. Based on its review, FDA does not agree that selenium may reduce the risk of prostate cancer.

Selenium may reduce the risk of bladder, colon, prostate, rectal and thyroid cancers. Scientific evidence concerning this claim is inconclusive.  Based on its review, FDA does not agree that selenium may reduce the risk of these cancers.

Selenium deficiency is rare in developed countries because it's easy obtained from foods. People with some kidney diseases that require hemodialysis and AIDs may be at a higher risk for deficiency. 

Other Trace Minerals

Sources:

Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. "Dietary Reference Intakes: Elements." Accessed July 9, 204. http://iom.edu/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Nutrition/DRIs/DRI_Elements.pdf.

Office of Dietary Supplements - National Institutes of Health. "Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Selenium." Accessed February 17,2010. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/selenium/.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "Settlement Reached for Qualified Health Claims Relating Selenium to Reduced Risk of Prostate, Colon, Rectal, Bladder, and Thyroid Cancers," Accessed July 9, 2014. http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/LabelingNutrition/ucm256940.htm.

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