Selenium Deficiency

By | June 10, 2022

Selenium occurs as an important trace element in humans, animals and some bacteria. It protects the body from attacks, binds heavy metals and has an antioxidant effect. Selenium deficiency can have far-reaching consequences for the body in the long term.

What is selenium deficiency?

Selenium is present in varying amounts throughout the body. So especially in the tissues and organs. The brain, heart, liver, kidneys and eyes, for example, contain larger amounts of selenium. But the blood platelets and blood cells are also supplied with selenium in higher doses. In the case of a selenium deficiency, a large part of the selenium available in the body goes to the organs that support bodily functions. For slang peutz-jeghers syndrome, please visit

There is a redistribution of the trace element to, for example, the kidneys and the thyroid gland as well as the pancreas. But the reproductive organs and the central nervous system also need a certain amount of selenium in order to be able to work properly. Although it occurs as a trace element in its entirety in the body only in small amounts, it plays an important role in maintaining bodily functions.

It is said not only to have cell-protecting and anti-cancer effects, but also to have stimulating and anti-inflammatory effects. Deficiency symptoms therefore trigger a reduction in the function of the organ systems, for which selenium is essential. The daily selenium requirement, which must be supplied through food, is between 30 and 70 micrograms for an adult.


The causes of a selenium deficiency can be very different. If the food is mainly obtained from selenium-poor soils or feed animals are not sufficiently fed with selenium-containing mineral mixtures, the body often cannot be supplied with a sufficient amount of selenium. Also affected are people who eat a low-protein diet or have an increased need for selenium for various reasons. This is the case after a certain age.

But smokers, kidney patients and cancer patients also need an increased amount of selenium. Likewise, with a weakened immune system, a higher selenium intake makes sense, since the trace element plays an important role in the immune system. In addition, a reduced ability to absorb the trace element from food can be the cause of deficiency symptoms. The reason for this is usually physical complaints such as diseases of the gastrointestinal tract.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

Symptoms that indicate a selenium deficiency include white spots on the fingernails and pale, scaly skin. Often the skin becomes thinner and the hair color can lighten. Joint problems and male infertility can also occur. The symptoms are often not very specific.

Due to the wide range of tasks that selenium has in the human body, it is often difficult to differentiate it from other diseases. In many cases, the function of the immune system decreases, the body is weakened and the person affected often becomes ill more quickly. The body’s defenses no longer function adequately. However, liver disorders, thyroid disorders (hypofunction) and heart muscle disorders have also been observed.

Apart from that, a selenium deficiency in children can block growth and generally increase the frequency of tumor diseases. The first symptoms that appear can be exhaustion, breathing difficulties, water retention ( edema ) and reduced performance.

Apart from that, Keshan disease and Kashin-Beck disease have been linked to severe selenium deficiency. Keshan disease is a heart muscle disease, while Kashin-Beck disease causes the body to regress articular cartilage. Some symptoms only appear if a vitamin E deficiency occurs at the same time, provided the selenium deficiency is low.

Diagnosis & course of disease

If you have symptoms, it makes sense to see a doctor. On the basis of the symptoms and the medical history, the doctor may already be able to make an initial assumption. After the doctor has carried out a thorough complete examination, he will in most cases already be able to conclude that there is a deficiency symptom. Diagnosis is via a blood draw, which a laboratory can equally test for various deficiencies. A reduction in the amount of selenium in the blood supports the diagnosis. The doctor will discuss suitable therapeutic measures with the patient.


A selenium deficiency leads to a weakening of the entire body. In the thyroid, it can lead to hypofunction because selenium is needed for metabolism. When levels are too low, metabolism slows down throughout the body.

Selenium also has a major impact on the body’s defenses and detoxification. If the selenium level is too low, the body tends more towards bacterial infections and inflammation. But the effects are even more far-reaching in the form of white spots on the nails, thinning hair or reduced sperm quality. Damage to the liver, nerves and muscles, as well as cardiovascular diseases are also conceivable. Sometimes it comes to the promotion of various cancers in the breast, lungs, intestines, ovaries or prostate.

Headaches, tooth decay and digestive problems can also be caused by a selenium deficiency. During pregnancy, a selenium deficiency in the child can disrupt growth. Animal experiments have shown that this leads to more frequent stillbirths. Pregnancy poisoning (preeclampsia) is often associated with low selenium levels.

This can lead to complications as the pregnancy progresses and during childbirth. Selenium is also important for mental well-being. People with fears, depression and great self-doubt often suffer from a selenium deficiency. A double-blind study was able to prove that the mood brightened in subjects who received selenium supplements during the study.

When should you go to the doctor?

A slight selenium deficiency can be compensated by eating Brazil nuts, coconut and eggs. A susceptibility to infections is a typical sign of a severe selenium deficiency. Hair loss, dry skin and increasing muscle weakness can also occur. Men can experience infertility. If these symptoms are noticed, a doctor should be consulted. If left untreated, a selenium deficiency can cause serious complications of the immune system and the heart. People who do not eat a balanced diet or suffer from a severe nutrient deficiency due to an illness should contact the responsible doctor if the symptoms mentioned above occur.

Men suffering from infertility need to consider selenium deficiency as a cause. Women and vegetarians or vegans have an increased risk of selenium deficiency. Likewise smokers, alcoholics and patients with chronic inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease. The doctor can determine the condition with a blood test and prescribe suitable preparations.

Those affected should initiate these measures as early as possible in the first stages of a selenium deficiency. Increasing discomfort and unusual skin or hair changes must be clarified in any case. It is best for those affected to consult their family doctor or a dermatologist. If there is a concrete suspicion, the internist is the right contact person. Anyone who fasts regularly should have a routine check-up by their family doctor.

Treatment & Therapy

The treatment of the deficiency depends primarily on the underlying cause. Therefore, the trigger must be combated in the first place. If the cause is insufficient intake from the diet, a change in diet makes sense, for example, in order to reabsorb the necessary amount of selenium. It is also possible to supplement with selenium tablets, although the patient should pay strict attention to the prescribed intake amount. An overdose of selenium is harmful and can cause poisoning.

In the case of digestive diseases that cause the deficiency, the disease must first be combated. If this is not possible, the person concerned should also ensure that they are getting enough selenium through their diet or appropriate preparations. Depending on the symptoms and diseases that have occurred, it is necessary to treat them. In some cases, for example when articular cartilage is degrading, the patient and the doctor must take precautions to alleviate the symptoms. Some of the diseases do not go away even with sufficient selenium intake.


In most cases, a selenium deficiency can be prevented by a balanced and conscious diet. Affected people who belong to the risk groups should consciously pay attention to sufficient selenium intake and, ideally, also find out where the food comes from. In the case of meat and milk, for example, it is possible to ask the suppliers about the feed of the feed animals. Nevertheless, people should never take supplements on suspicion, since selenium poisoning is just as harmful to the body as a deficiency.


If the patient has once suffered from an acute selenium deficiency, it can be assumed that he can suffer from a deficiency again and again. This is especially true when the triggers have not been found. Did the patient eat poorly? Does he have an increased need for selenium? If so, is this due to a chronic underlying disease, a temporarily weakened immune system, or because the patient is still smoking?

The patient should ask himself these questions and try to avoid future selenium deficiency based on the answers found during aftercare. Overall, however, the patient benefits from switching to an organic diet and avoiding recreational toxins. A healthy, vitamin-rich diet in particular ensures that the damage caused by the previous selenium deficiency can be compensated for and that the immune system can also regenerate itself.

Sport is indispensable in this case, because it builds up the body as well as the psyche of the patient. Anyone who moves outdoors a lot activates their immune system and regulates their metabolism. This also combats the susceptibility to infections that previously accompanied the selenium deficiency.

If the hair was also affected by the selenium deficiency, it takes a long time before the damage is repaired and lost hair grows back. Flaky skin, on the other hand, can be made supple again relatively quickly. Patients can get advice from a dermatologist here.

You can do that yourself

A selenium deficiency without disease-related causes can be remedied with a diet tailored to it. Those affected should first find out about the nutrient composition of the soil in their area. If this contains very little selenium, the vegetables from fields in the region also have a low selenium content. As part of a balanced diet, residents must therefore fall back on other soul sources.

In order to raise the selenium level in a targeted manner, an increased intake of animal protein such as lamb or beef offal and seafood is generally recommended. Brazil nuts and some types of mushrooms such as button mushrooms also have a particularly high selenium content. In the case of a vegetarian diet, those affected can alternatively use plant products from areas with a high selenium content in the soil as well as cheese or eggs as selenium sources of animal origin. Fish rich in selenium also include tuna, salmon and cod.

If the body’s own soul stores are filled up in this way, you should refrain from further focused nutrition or from taking selenium tablets yourself. Otherwise, consuming too much selenium can lead to headaches, hair loss, and other ailments. Whether medication is appropriate can be clarified by visiting a doctor, which is advisable in case of doubt. If the selenium deficiency is due to another underlying disease, the medically prescribed mineral supplementation in the form of tablets can be useful at times.

Selenium Deficiency