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written by Marina Zacharias

About 20 years ago, selenium was considered a nonessential toxic mineral. Today it is recognized as an essential one, needed in small daily amounts.

Selenium has a variety of functions, and research is revealing new information about its’ importance. The main role is, that it is a necessary component in the formation of an enzyme called "glutathione peroxidase". This functions as an antioxidant that helps prevent cellular degeneration from some of the more common free radicals. This particular enzyme also aids red blood cell metabolism and has been shown to prevent chromosome damage in tissue cultures.

Selenium and vitamin E work together synergistically in that they carry out antioxidant and immunostimulating functions better together than individually. For example: the presence of these two nutrients enhances antibody formation in response to vaccines by 20 to 30 times!

Selenium is known to help prevent cardiovascular disease and decrease the risk of complications such as strokes and heart attacks. For example: in the Keshan area of China (known for very low levels of selenium in the soil) a form of heart disease is prevalent in children. It has responded well to selenium supplementation. One angina study showed reduced symptoms in nearly 100% of the patients when selenium and vitamin E were administered. Its interesting to note that the people in Keshan treat it with a common herb called "Astragalus", which accumulates selenium from the soil.

Selenium is also being found to have an anticarcinogenic effect. Its blood or tissue levels correlate more closely with cancer risk than any other substance! Where selenium is abundant in the soil or when added to the diet, the results are both decreased rates of cancer and decreased mortality from a wide range of cancer including breast, colon/rectum, prostate, lung, bladder, pancreas, and skin. In animal studies 1 to 4 ppm of selenium added to the food or water is clearly associated with decreased cancer rates.

Selenium (along with vitamin E) has been shown to improve sperm production and motility. If one of your stud dogs is weak in this area you may want to try supplementation for better results. Sterility is a common result of selenium deficiency.

Because of selenium’s strong ability to stimulate the immune system, it is very useful in the treatment and prevention of many diseases. Uppermost in my mind is that it has been shown to be effective in dealing with viral and retroviral infections such as Parvo. Some new research indicates that selenium may be a key factor in preventing the HIV virus from progressing into full-blown AIDS.

Autoimmune diseases, recurrent illnesses or infections, and other inflammatory problems may be helped by restoring adequate selenium levels in the body. In some cases, selenium promotes more rapid recovery from many basic disease processes.

Although the mechanism of action is not known, selenium also seems to protect the body from the toxic effects of heavy metals and other substances.

Cataracts have been shown to contain only about one-sixth as much selenium as a normal lens. They are still not sure whether this is a cause or a result of the cataract.

The amount of selenium in our food sources, whether consumed directly as plants or as meat from animals that have eaten the vegetation, varies greatly according to the soil levels in any particular region. Further, most selenium is lost during food processing by modern methods.

As much of the selenium is stored in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas (and in the testes and seminal vesicles of males), and blood levels are usually low, it is difficult to evaluate the body levels of selenium.

Given the importance of this element it would seem prudent to ensure adequate intake by supplementation of the diet. Don’t over do it of course, there is always a point where too much of a good thing can be harmful.