I have often recommended that readers supplement their diet with the ACES - vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium and have talked a lot about the first three. But what about the fourth - selenium? Selenium is a trace mineral that our bodies use to produce an important enzyme within our cells called glutathione peroxidase, which serves as a powerful natural antioxidant.
Glutathione peroxidase works with vitamin E to protect cell membranes from damage caused by free radicals. Selenium ranks with vitamins C, E, and A as strong promoters of immunity.
Selenium has been found to stimulate the activity of white blood cells - a primary component of the immune system. Selenium is also needed to activate thyroid hormones. Selenium provides protection against a large number of cancers and against a broad spectrum of diseases, especially viral infections.
SELENIUM and VIRAL INFECTIONS
The importance of selenium in viral infections is illustrated by the fact that a number of deadly viruses such as HIV and Ebola have emerged from regions in Africa such as Zaire, which appear to be selenium deficient. On the other hand, despite widespread unprotected promiscuous sexual activity in Senegal, another African country, HIV spread very slowly, if at all. The soil in Senegal happens to be rich in selenium.
It has been observed that some people live with an HIV infection for a decade before the virus can completely destroy the immune system. Others die within a couple of years of contracting the infection. Strong theoretical evidence suggests that selenium deficiency triggers the progression of HIV infections into full-blown AIDS.
Dr Ethan Taylor of the University of Georgia suggests that the HIV virus robs the body of selenium and weakens its immunity. According to 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 search of more selenium. At some point, the body will not be able to supply enough selenium to quench the thirst of the HIV virus and the signs of full-blown AIDS begin to appear.
Ultimately, the entire body's stores of selenium are wiped out by the spreading, selenium-hungry virus. So selenium availability determines how fast the HIV virus infection transforms into AIDS. As one expert puts it, "Selenium acts as a birth-control pill for some viruses like HIV."
The immune system of the victim of the HIV virus will try desperately to combat the virus by producing large amounts of free radicals to kill the virus and associated bacterial infections. Without glutathione peroxidase and other protective antioxidants, these free radicals become toxic to the immune system itself, and the body becomes even less able to defend itself.
SELENIUM and CANCER
Selenium also protects against cancer and helps prevent tumours from forming. In addition to its functions as an antioxidant, it disrupts the carcinogenic process by inhibiting damage to DNA.
Several well-designed medical trials have shown that an intake of small quantities of selenium (200 mcg per day) can reduce the risk of several cancers: breast cancer by 82%, colon and rectal cancer by 69%, prostate cancer risk by 54%, and lung cancer by 39%. Protocols for alternative therapies for cancer often include selenium supple-mentation.
SELENIUM and OTHER DISEASES
Several virus-related problems like Hepatitis B and C viruses, Coxsackie B virus along with HIV-1 and HIV-2 involve the selenium- dependent enzyme glutathione peroxidase.
Selenium can also prevent the dangerous mutation of certain other common viruses, and thus may prevent the creation of new supergerms like that responsible for the recent bird flu scare. Yes in many, many ways, selenium is essential for healthy immune functioning.
SUPPLEMENTING with SELENIUM
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 are lowered. This results in lower selenium levels in our food.
Some countries like New Zealand and Finland are dealing with this problem by enriching the fertiliser used by farmers with selenium. For now, we need to take selenium as a supplement to ensure that we are getting enough in our food.
Take selenium supplements: Selenium supplementation in the range of 50-200 micrograms (mcg) daily is considered safe and effective for healthy individuals. The Cellular Nutrition Programme that I recommend in combination with immune-support products provides well over 100mcg of selenium daily. The programme also supplies all the other major antioxidants as antioxidants work best together as a team. For hepatitis or HIV-infected individuals, a higher dose of 400mcg is more effective as the disease itself often impairs the absorption of nutrients.
One study involving actual AIDS patients suggested an even higher daily dose (up to 800mcg per day) for several weeks to create optimal blood levels. In very ill patients, I administer selenium by injection directly into the circulation. 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 a deficiency of one tiny micronutrient can cause severe devastation to the immune system and general health.
You may email Dr. Vendryes at firstname.lastname@example.org or listen to An Ounce of Prevention on POWER106FM on Fridays at 8:15 pm. His new book An Ounce of Prevention - Especially for Women is available at local bookstores and on the Internet.