We need much more selenium
Selenium is important for our immune defense, thyroid gland, fertility, protection of cells, and other essential body functions that international science is very focused on. The recommended selenium intake for men and women has been increased by 50 percent. At the same time, the selenium content in the agricultural soil in the Nordic countries is rather low, which makes it challenging to get enough selenium from things like wholegrain, meat, dairy products, and eggs.
The updated Nordic Nutrient Recommendations for 2023 (NNR-2023) that are published by the Nordic Counsil of Ministers, is a set of dietary guidelines that form the basis of healthy eating habits and good health in general. Hundreds of Nordic and international scientists have been involved in making the new report that deals with the most recent scientific knowledge about the effect of a long list of nutrients and foods. Compared with the former edition from 2012, the recommended daily intake for one particular nutrient has increased notably, and that is selenium.
The updated guidelines recommend for men to increase their daily selenium intake from 60 to 90 micrograms, while women are advised to increase their intake from 50 to 75 micrograms. This is a 50 percent increase for both genders. According to a report from Denmark’s Technical University, adult Danish women get 38 micrograms of dietary selenium per day on average, while adult men get 48 micrograms. The new nutrient recommendations therefore make it even more challenging for people to get enough selenium from their diet.
Why is it so important to get enough selenium?
Selenium supports more than 25 selenium-dependent enzymes (selenoproteins) that are important for a host of different body functions and for protecting our cells. Selenium is of particular importance to the immune defense and for our ability to fight virus infections such as influenza and COVID-19.
Selenium is important for the thyroid function because it supports deiodinase, an enzyme that removes an iodine atom from the passive thyroid hormone, T4, thereby converting it into active T3. Selenium is also important for male and female fertility, including its supportive role in structural proteins in sperm cells and its role in fetal growth and a healthy pregnancy.
Selenium also supports various antioxidants such as the GPXs that protect our cells and DNA against oxidative damage. Selenium also protects against unwanted inflammation that is seen in connection with many chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, certain gastrointestinal diseases, and cancer.
Selenium sources and how to get enough
The selenium content in food is very dependent on how much selenium is in the soil. Nordic and Baltic farmland has a relatively low selenium content, which is reflected in locally produced crops such as grain and vegetables. The selenium content in animal fodder, dairy products, eggs, and meat is also quite low for the same reason.
In 1984, the Finnish government decided to deal with the problems with selenium-depleted soil by introducing mandatory selenium-enrichment of all fertilizers as a way of preventing deficiency diseases. This simple measure has had a positive impact on public health in Finland. In Denmark, farmers have fed extra selenium to their livestock, simply because healthy animals are good for the economy.
Selenium is also available in supplement form as selenium yeast that contains the same variety of different selenium species that you get from a balanced diet with many different selenium sources.
Nordic Council of Ministers. Nordic Nutrition Recommendations 2023
Yin Sun et al. Review on the health-promoting effect of adequate selenium status. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2023
Danmarks Fødevareforskning. Selen og sundhed. 2006
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