Remember playing “hot-potato” as a kid? Whether it was just a fast-paced game of catch or it was literally a steaming tuber being tossed around, speed and urgency are the name of the game.
The way your body deals with free radicals - the little, unstable molecules that can lead to inflammation if left unchecked - has to be fast too. Pick up that hot ember, quickly make a decision on who to pass it to, and then wait for when another one comes around to you. Even though your antioxidant system coordinates this at the tiniest scale, how well it works has big implications for your energy levels, healthy aging, and joint and heart health.
Your standard vitamins A, C, and E take care of the quick response. Healthy glutathione levels provide the power to deal with the hot potato game of oxidative damage (check out our other posts if you want to learn more about glutathione - a hint: it might be your most important antioxidant, but you can’t supplement to get more). But what happens to your antioxidants in the process?
Damaged glutathione and other antioxidants have to be recycled. In a sense, the troops have to be refreshed before they go back to keeping the peace with inflammation. If we were to play a full scale game of hot potato, with the potato being a free radical, there would be three classes of defenses to keep in mind: security, medics, and waste management.
Selenium is a part of selenocysteine. It’s a special amino acid that works in a protein to receive damaged glutathione and signal the rest of the peacekeepers to mount a defense. Higher selenium levels are linked to increased glutathione processing power, but that doesn’t mean everyone should just go and start supplementing with selenium! Go too much over the recommended 400 micrograms per day and you’ll have some serious repercussions! Keep reading for the information you need to keep your selenium optimized.
These minerals have many other important roles in the body. In combination with glucosamine and chondroitin, supplementing with manganese is linked better joint health in older adults with osteoarthritis. High quality research suggests zinc might be helpful to take at the start of a cold to support the immune system’s activity. Low copper levels might be associated with heart disease and supplementing can increase some positive measures of heart health.
In the antioxidant system, copper, zinc, and manganese work to get glutathione back out on the front lines. Copper supplementation has been shown to increase glutathione recycling systems. Zinc raises the same enzyme that helps keep glutathione working well. Even though it might not be enough to lower oxidative stress in the average person, it seems to work in people with increased risk for oxidative damage, like those with kidney disease, and in high-level athletes.
If the other minerals are the team of medics that patch up glutathione, then iron and manganese neutralize the damaging byproducts and leftovers. Iron is a little tricky: just like selenium, you can get too much of a good thing, but too little will leave you feeling low-energy and easily fatigued. Women and children are at highest risk for iron deficiency. Too much iron can itself lead to increased oxidation and fatigue. The good news is that the National Institutes of Health recognize that iron overload from food doesn’t seem to be a big problem for most people - so outside of supplementing, eating iron-rich foods will help keep your energy up and your stress down. We’ll go more into how to eat to make sure you have the right iron levels in another post, so stay tuned!
The last time selenium made headlines was in 2008, when 201 people suffered from selenium poisoning in a poorly regulated supplement. You won’t find this kind of poor oversight in Resync products: our supplements go through rigorous testing to carry the highest safety certifications.
The only other likely way you’ll get too much selenium is if you eat too many Brazil nuts. How many? Well, it depends. Selenium in plants comes from the soil, and soil levels vary depending on where you live, but it seems that levels in animal products are more consistent.
So, if you think you have a clean diet and you’re getting lots of local whole foods, you really don’t know how much selenium you’re getting in your diet. If you’re in the United States your best bet is to check out this map from the U.S. Geological Survey. If you’re only eating local foods in an area with low selenium levels, you should balance your diet out with some high-selenium foods. If you get your food from an area that has decent selenium levels, the FDA states that it’s probably nothing to worry about unless you have increased needs.
Some groups that have been shown to have low selenium levels include:
How much do I need?
The FDA recommends people get 55 micrograms (mcg) per day. Some experts think that high-performing athletes, older individuals, people losing weight with exercise, and vegans are more at risk for being deficient. Most Americans get about 120 mcg of selenium per day.
Can I get too much?
Yes! The FDA says that people shouldn’t eat more than 400 micrograms per day, which isn’t hard to do if you’re eating brazil nuts on the daily, but shouldn’t be a worry if you have an otherwise healthy diet. The first signs of toxic levels are garlic breath, metallic taste, brittle nails and hair loss.
How important is it?
Selenium is the most important mineral for glutathione recycling. It’s also crucial for thyroid hormone health and normal levels are linked to better heart health.
Selenium may be better absorbed with a vitamin C-rich diet (think citrus and green veggies), but not with a vitamin C supplement, aka. ascorbic acid. The best way for your body to use it might be along with other antioxidants like vitamin D, which can raise selenium levels and vitamin E, which may help prevent toxicity - olive oil drizzled salmon, anyone?
Where can I get it?
Just 5 brazil nuts a day can deliver toxic levels, but it might also take 100 - so watch out for signs of overdoing it if you eat them often! That being said, just 1 brazil nut a day is enough to boost glutathione and antioxidant levels - it’s all about moderation.
Sources that are high, but too high, are organ meats, followed by seafood, eggs, mustard and sunflower seeds. Other good sources are beans, spinach, and dairy products like cottage cheese.
Selenium in plants depends on where they’re grown and is highly variable, so if you want to be confident about your selenium status, locally-raised organ meats and seafood are the best choices.
Whether you’re trying to find the lifestyle balance to lower chronic stress or you’re trying to recover your best from pushing your limit, optimizing your total antioxidant system is hugely important - and it goes beyond taking your one-a-day. Choosing the best foods to boost glutathione and then making sure that your whole system is prepared to support your antioxidants is a winning formula for living your life on your terms. Play hard, recover your best, and maintain your energy through the whole day with the Resync lifestyle!
See our next post in this series where we decode what methylation means for your heart health. You do not want to miss out on it!
Comment below with your thoughts and questions and we’ll get back to you in future posts.
Click here to subscribe to your trusted source for information on supplements, nutrition, and healthy living.
We strive to be your fact-based source for nutrition and supplement information. Unlike other companies that are just trying to sell you their stuff with clickbait and fake news, we make sure there’s research to backup what we say. Want to learn more about a topic? Click on the red text to be redirected to a scientific article. We believe that if you have the right information, you’ll be empowered to make the best decision for yourself. And if you decide that our science-backed products are right for you, then hey, that’s a great perk for both of us!
Al-Daghri, Nasser M., Khalid M. Alkharfy, Nasiruddin Khan, Hanan A. Alfawaz, Abdulrahman S. Al-Ajlan, Sobhy M. Yakout, and Majed S. Alokail. “Vitamin D Supplementation and Serum Levels of Magnesium and Selenium in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus Patients: Gender Dimorphic Changes.” International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research. Internationale Zeitschrift Fur Vitamin- Und Ernahrungsforschung. Journal International De Vitaminologie Et De Nutrition 84, no. 1–2 (2014): 27–34. https://doi.org/10.1024/0300-9831/a000190.
Andriollo-Sanchez, Maud, Isabelle Hininger-Favier, Nathalie Meunier, Eugenia Venneria, Jacqueline M. O’Connor, Giuseppe Maiani, Angela Polito, et al. “No Antioxidant Beneficial Effect of Zinc Supplementation on Oxidative Stress Markers and Antioxidant Defenses in Middle-Aged and Elderly Subjects: The Zenith Study.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 27, no. 4 (August 2008): 463–69.
Battin, Erin E., and Julia L. Brumaghim. “Antioxidant Activity of Sulfur and Selenium: A Review of Reactive Oxygen Species Scavenging, Glutathione Peroxidase, and Metal-Binding Antioxidant Mechanisms.” Cell Biochemistry and Biophysics 55, no. 1 (September 1, 2009): 1–23. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12013-009-9054-7
Bird, Julia K., Rachel A. Murphy, Eric D. Ciappio, and Michael I. McBurney. “Risk of Deficiency in Multiple Concurrent Micronutrients in Children and Adults in the United States.” Nutrients 9, no. 7 (June 24, 2017). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9070655
Cominetti, Cristiane, Maritsa C. de Bortoli, Arthur B. Garrido, and Silvia M. F. Cozzolino. “Brazilian Nut Consumption Improves Selenium Status and Glutathione Peroxidase Activity and Reduces Atherogenic Risk in Obese Women.” Nutrition Research 32, no. 6 (June 1, 2012): 403–7. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nutres.2012.05.005
Das, A., and T. A. Hammad. “Efficacy of a Combination of FCHG49 Glucosamine Hydrochloride, TRH122 Low Molecular Weight Sodium Chondroitin Sulfate and Manganese Ascorbate in the Management of Knee Osteoarthritis.” Osteoarthritis and Cartilage 8, no. 5 (September 2000): 343–50. https://doi.org/10.1053/joca.1999.0308
DiSilvestro, Robert A., Elizabeth L. Joseph, Wenyi Zhang, Adrienne E. Raimo, and Young Min Kim. “A Randomized Trial of Copper Supplementation Effects on Blood Copper Enzyme Activities and Parameters Related to Cardiovascular Health.” Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental 61, no. 9 (September 2012): 1242–46. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.metabol.2012.02.002
Gaby, Alan. “Nutritional Medicine.” Global Advances in Health and Medicine 2, no. 1 (January 2013): 80. https://doi.org/10.7453/gahmj.2013.2.1.013
Guo, Chih-Hung, and Chia-Liang Wang. “Effects of Zinc Supplementation on Plasma Copper/Zinc Ratios, Oxidative Stress, and Immunological Status in Hemodialysis Patients.” International Journal of Medical Sciences 10, no. 1 (December 22, 2012): 79–89. https://doi.org/10.7150/ijms.5291
Jones, Gerrad D., Boris Droz, Peter Greve, Pia Gottschalk, Deyan Poffet, Steve P. McGrath, Sonia I. Seneviratne, Pete Smith, and Lenny H. E. Winkel. “Selenium Deficiency Risk Predicted to Increase under Future Climate Change.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114, no. 11 (March 14, 2017): 2848–53. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1611576114
Ju, W., X. Li, Z. Li, G. R. Wu, X. F. Fu, X. M. Yang, X. Q. Zhang, and X. B. Gao. “The Effect of Selenium Supplementation on Coronary Heart Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.” Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology: Organ of the Society for Minerals and Trace Elements (GMS) 44 (December 2017): 8–16. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtemb.2017.04.009 .
Kafai, Mohammad R., and Vijay Ganji. “Sex, Age, Geographical Location, Smoking, and Alcohol Consumption Influence Serum Selenium Concentrations in the USA: Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988-1994.” Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology: Organ of the Society for Minerals and Trace Elements (GMS) 17, no. 1 (2003): 13–18. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0946-672X(03)80040-8 .
Kara, Ersan, Mehmet Gunay, Ibrahim Cicioglu, Mehmet Ozal, Mehmet Kilic, Rasim Mogulkoc, and Abdulkerim Kasim Baltaci. “Effect of Zinc Supplementation on Antioxidant Activity in Young Wrestlers.” Biological Trace Element Research 134, no. 1 (April 2010): 55–63. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12011-009-8457-z .
MacFarquhar, Jennifer K., Danielle L. Broussard, Paul Melstrom, Richard Hutchinson, Amy Wolkin, Colleen Martin, Raymond F. Burk, et al. “Acute Selenium Toxicity Associated With a Dietary Supplement.” Archives of Internal Medicine 170, no. 3 (February 8, 2010): 256–61. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinternmed.2009.495 .
Margaritis, Irène, Anne-Sophie Rousseau, Isabelle Hininger, Stéphane Palazzetti, Josiane Arnaud, and Anne-Marie Roussel. “Increase in Selenium Requirements with Physical Activity Loads in Well-Trained Athletes Is Not Linear.” BioFactors (Oxford, England) 23, no. 1 (2005): 45–55.
“Office of Dietary Supplements - Copper.” Accessed July 15, 2019. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Copper-HealthProfessional/ .
“Office of Dietary Supplements - Iron.” Accessed July 15, 2019. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/ .
“Office of Dietary Supplements - Selenium.” Accessed July 15, 2019. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/selenium-HealthProfessional/ .
Rayman, Margaret P. “Selenium and Human Health.” Lancet (London, England) 379, no. 9822 (March 31, 2012): 1256–68. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(11)61452-9 .
Savory, Louise A., Catherine J. Kerr, Paul Whiting, Nicholas Finer, Jane McEneny, and Tony Ashton. “Selenium Supplementation and Exercise: Effect on Oxidant Stress in Overweight Adults.” Obesity 20, no. 4 (2012): 794–801. https://doi.org/10.1038/oby.2011.83 .
“Selenium in Counties of the Conterminous States.” Accessed July 15, 2019. https://mrdata.usgs.gov/geochem/doc/averages/se/usa.html .
Silva Junior, E. C., L. H. O. Wadt, K. E. Silva, R. M. B. Lima, K. D. Batista, M. C. Guedes, G. S. Carvalho, et al. “Natural Variation of Selenium in Brazil Nuts and Soils from the Amazon Region.” Chemosphere 188 (December 1, 2017): 650–58. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2017.08.158 .
Singh, Meenu, and Rashmi R. Das. “Zinc for the Common Cold.” The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, no. 2 (February 16, 2011): CD001364. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD001364.pub3 .
Zhang, X., C. Liu, J. Guo, and Y. Song. “Selenium Status and Cardiovascular Diseases: Meta-Analysis of Prospective Observational Studies and Randomized Controlled Trials.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 70, no. 2 (February 2016): 162–69. https://doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2015.78 .
Written by registered dietitian, Detrick Snyder, MPH, RDN. Updated 09/22/2020