Selenium deficiency

Last revised by Ayla Al Kabbani on 13 Feb 2021

Selenium deficiency (or hyposelenemia) when severe may present with arthritic and cardiac-related symptoms. 

Up to one billion people globally are thought to have some degree of selenium deficiency.

Phenylketonuria patients are more likely to experience selenium deficiency as many of the foods containing phenylalanine are important dietary sources of selenium too. In addition hypovitaminosis E is often an associated finding.

Three conditions have been found to be linked to severe selenium deficiency:

  • psychiatric symptoms: low mood, anxiety, delirium
  • reduced male fertility
  • growth impairment in children
  • severe deficiency:
    • cardiac dysfunction
    • arthropathy

Elemental selenium is vital for the functioning of ~25 selenoproteins in the human body. Three of these are thyroid deiodinases (D1, D2 and D3), which have a key metabolic role in the thyroid, and are also important in normal functioning of the central nervous system, brown fat and the skeletal musculature. Several glutathione peroxidases, which are part of the oxidative defense of the body, are also selenoproteins. The normal functioning of the male reproductive system, including testosterone production, also relies on adequate dietary selenium.

Selenium supplementation is the cornerstone of successful treatment, with the objective of 90 μg per day in the adult patient 1

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