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Selenium is a mineral found in the soil. Selenium naturally appears in water and some foods. While people only need a very small amount, selenium plays a key role in the metabolism.

Why do people take selenium?

Selenium has attracted attention because of its antioxidant properties. Antioxidants protect cells from damage. There is some evidence that selenium supplements may reduce the odds of prostate cancer. Selenium does not seem to affect the risk of colorectal or lung cancer. But beware: selenium also seems to increase the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer.

Among healthy people in the U.S., selenium deficiencies are uncommon. But some health conditions -- such as HIV, Crohn's disease, and others -- are associated with low selenium levels. People who are fed intravenously are also at risk for low selenium. Doctors sometimes suggest that people with these conditions use selenium supplements.

Selenium has also been studied for the treatment of dozens of conditions. They range from asthma to arthritis to dandruff to infertility. However, the results have been inconclusive. 

How much selenium should you take?

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) includes the total amount of selenium you should get from foods and from any supplements you take. Most people can get their RDA of selenium from food.

In studies supporting the use of selenium for prostate cancer prevention, men took 200 micrograms daily.

The safe upper limit for selenium is 400 micrograms a day in adults. Anything above that is considered an overdose.

 

Group
Recommended Dietary Allowance
Children 1-3 20 micrograms/day
Children 4-8 30 micrograms/day
Children 9-13 40 micrograms/day
Adults and children 14 and up 55 micrograms/day
Pregnant women 60 micrograms/day
Breastfeeding women 70 micrograms/day

 

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