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Ounce of Prevention | Super selenium for super immunity

Published:Tuesday | April 25, 2017 | 12:00 AM

I often discuss special nutrients called antioxidants, particularly the ACES - vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium. Vitamins A, C, and E are well known, but what about selenium? Selenium is a trace element found in soil that is required in small amounts by the body to maintain good health. In fact, selenium ranks right up there with vitamins A, C and E as a powerful friend of your immune system. It is essential for many body processes and is found in nearly every cell. Our cells make their own antioxidants and use selenium to produce a particularly important natural called glutathione peroxidase.

Glutathione peroxidase works with vitamin E to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Selenium supplementation stimulates the activity of white blood cells, a primary component of the immune system. Selenium provides protection against many diseases, especially viral infections, many cancers and heart disease and is needed for thyroid hormone activity. Severe selenium deficiency leads to a rare but terrible form of heart disease called Keshans disease, in which the heart literally rots away.


The importance of selenium in thwarting viral infections is illustrated by the observation that a number of deadly viruses, such as HIV and Ebola, have devastated regions in Africa, such as Zaire, which appear to be selenium deficient. On the other hand, despite similar sexual practices in Senegal, another African country, HIV has spread very slowly. The soil in Senegal happens to be rich in selenium.

It has been observed that some people live with an HIV infection for decades without the virus completely destroying the immune system, while others die within a couple of years of contracting the infection. Strong theoretical evidence suggests that selenium deficiency accelerates the progression of HIV infections into full-blown AIDS.

Dr Ethan Taylor of the University of Georgia suggested that HIV robs the body of selenium and weakens its immunity. According to Dr Taylor, when the virus uses up all of the selenium in an HIV-infected T cell, it reproduces faster and starts attacking other T cells in its search for more selenium. When the body is unable to supply enough selenium to quench the thirst of the HIV virus, full-blown AIDS begins to appear. As one expert puts it, "selenium acts as a birth control pill for some viruses like HIV".


Selenium can be very useful in other viral illnesses like the hepatitis B and C viruses, and the coxsackie B virus. Selenium may also prevent the dangerous mutation of other types of viruses, and thus limit the development of new super germs, like those responsible for bird and swine flu. It also helps control the herpes virus that causes cold sores (night fever) and shingles.


Selenium's role in cancer prevention was the subject of research carried out at Cornell University and the University of Arizona. This study showed that people taking 200mcg a day of selenium had 63 per cent less prostate cancer, 58 per cent less colon cancers, 46 per cent less lung cancers and a whopping 39 per cent reduction in overall cancer deaths. In other studies, selenium shows promise in helping to prevent cancer of the cervix, rectum, ovaries, bladder, oesophagus, pancreas and liver.


More selenium would help boost immune system function and thus prevent viral infections and other immune system problems like cancer. Selenium would also assist the immune system deal with infections that may already be present in the body.

Eat a selenium-rich diet: Good dietary sources of selenium include nuts (Brazil nuts have the highest concentration of selenium of all foods), brewers yeast, fish, oysters, turkey, sunflower seeds, wheat bran, wheat germ, garlic, soybeans and mushrooms. However, as modern agriculture uses more and more chemical fertilisers, and with increasing acid rain from environmental pollution, the selenium levels in the soil is lowered. This results in less selenium in our food.

Some countries like New Zealand and Finland are responding by enriching the fertiliser used with selenium. For now, we need to take selenium as a supplement to ensure that we are getting enough.

Supplement with selenium: The United States Department of Agriculture states that nutritional supplementation in the range of 50-200 micrograms (mcg) of selenium daily is safe and effective for healthy individuals. The cellular nutrition programme that I take and recommend, in combination with immune support supplements, provides optimal quantities of selenium.

This programme also provides all the other major antioxidants. Remember, antioxidants work best together as a team. My favorite team of antioxidant supplements includes vitamin A, C and E along with the herbal antioxidants schizandra rosemary and pycnogenol.

For hepatitis- or HIV- infected individuals, a higher dose of 400mcg daily seems more useful. One published clinical study, involving actual AIDS patients, suggested up to 800mcg for several weeks, followed by a decrease to 400mcg, as an effective strategy. Selenium overdosage is very rare and easily reversed.

The selenium story serves to highlight the tremendous importance of good nutrition for optimal health. It shows how devastating a deficiency of one tiny micronutrient can be to the immune system.

- You may email Dr Vendryes at or listen to 'An Ounce of Prevention' on POWER 106 FM on Fridays at 9 p.m. Visit for details on his books and articles.