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The Role of Selenium in Anemia

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Feeling tired and sluggish all the time? Do you feel breathless after climbing a flight of stairs? Is your skin unnaturally pale? You might have anemia. Although iron-deficient anemia is the most common form, low levels of selenium can also cause anemia. Find out about the connection between selenium and anemia below.

Anemia is a common condition that affects up to 12 percent of all Americans. Being anemia is commonly associated with low iron levels, but there are also other causes. Barring a life-threatening cause for anemia, the most common reason for anemia is nutrient deficiencies.

Modern diets are light in trace minerals, which are essential for preventing anemia. Selenium, in particular, is associated with certain forms of anemia. In nearly all patients with anemia, low selenium levels were also detected.

Find out more about the role of selenium in anemia below, but first, identify the signs of anemia to see if you might have the disorder.

Signs of Anemia

If you are anemic, your body will tell you. You just have to recognize what it is trying to tell you. The following is a list of common symptoms of anemia:

  • Fatigue
  • Tingling in the hands and feet
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Fast heart rate
  • Brittle nails
  • Low blood pressure

What Does Selenium Do?

Selenium is known as a trace mineral. Trace minerals are simply mineral nutrients that your body requires to function properly, but you don't need much of that nutrient to get the job done. Still, many individuals are deficient in selenium because few of our modern foods contain selenium.

Selenium has several vital roles in the body. It's biggest role is fighting oxidation in the body. When combined with vitamin E, selenium is powerfully effective against free radical damage and the prevention of cancer. Selenium is also important to control thyroid function.

Selenium has also been linked with the reduction of autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis. If you suffer from anemia, selenium also can play a role in anemia prevention. Individuals with anemia are often low in selenium along with several other trace minerals. Researchers are not sure if low selenium causes anemia or is a side effect of anemia, but research has found that boosting selenium levels can also help reduce anemia.

You may be at risk for low selenium levels and anemia if you engage in the following behaviors:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Taking birth control pills
  • Have a digestive disease that reduces nutrient absorption (like Crohn's disease)

How Selenium Helps Anemia

A study from 2009 published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition stated, "Low serum selenium is independently associated with anemia among older men and women in the United States." In the study, 13 percent of anemic study participants were found to have low selenium levels.

A study on anemia children also found that children with anemia tend to have low selenium levels. According to these study, low selenium levels can cause anemia regardless if the person is also low in iron or other nutrients that contribute to anemia. Selenium works to boost hemoglobin levels and boost nutrient levels in the blood.

Selenium also works to prevent the development of plaque in the arteries, which can lead to heart problems. Anemia also eventually can lead to heart attacks and other heart problems, so it is possible that the antioxidant effects of selenium also increase the number of healthy red blood cells in the body.

Other Benefits of Selenium

Selenium is not just good for fighting anemia. Selenium also plays many other important roles in the body, including the following:

Heart Disease

Low levels of selenium are tied closely with heart problems and heart disease. Selenium helps prevent the arteries from hardening, which decreases the risk for stroke and heart attack.

Selenium, especially when combined with vitamin E and vitamin A, is effective at lowering LDL cholesterol levels.

Immune Function

Selenium also plays a role in the immune system. Selenium boosts the white blood cell count of the blood and helps fight off infections and illnesses. Selenium may even be able to prevent bacterial skin infections.

Selenium and zinc supplements have been given to individuals before taking the flu shot to boost the effectiveness of the vaccine, which positive results.

Asthma

Individuals with asthma are more likely to have low selenium levels. In one study, asthma patients who took selenium supplements for 14 weeks showed fewer asthma symptoms than individuals who took a placebo. HIV Selenium boosts the immune system, which is why it can be an effective supplement to reduce HIV and AIDS symptoms.

One study found that HIV patients who took selenium supplements showed a reduction in the effects of HIV.

Cancer

The antioxidant properties of selenium make it effective in the prevention of cancer. Multiple studies have found that low selenium levels are associated with a higher risk for cancer. Most individuals with cancer also have low levels of selenium. In areas of the world where selenium levels are high in the soil, the people living there are less likely to develop cancer. The most effective way to reap the benefits of selenium for cancer is to eat it regularly in your diet from foods.

Male Infertility

Males who have a low sperm count may find that boosting their selenium levels increases their fertility. Selenium is used to make proteins that help sperm develop properly.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Low selenium levels are associated with rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. Increasing selenium intake may reduce the risk of developing RA and other autoimmune diseases.

How to Add Selenium to Your Diet

The best way to add more selenium in your diet to fight anemia and other issues in the body is to add it through selenium-rich foods. Selenium supplements may also be effective against anemia and other problems, but as with most vitamins, some of your selenium should still come from food sources.

Selenium-Rich Foods
  • Shellfish
  • Wheat germ
  • Liver
  • Butter
  • Fish
  • Garlic
  • Brazil nuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Whole grains
  • Brewer's yeast

Precautions

Overdosing on selenium can cause other issues, including a higher risk of developing skin cancer and an increased risk for diabetes. It is important not to take too much selenium to maintain a healthy body and keep your nutrients balanced. Selenium is a trace mineral, and should not be taken in huge quantities. Never take more than 200 mcg per day, and aim for much less.

The USDA recommended intake for selenium is 20 mcg. Aim for this number, and you will be unlikely to have any side effects. Selenium supplements may also interact with some medications, so if you are taking medications, consult with your doctor to determine if it is safe for you to take selenium supplements.

Other Supporting Nutrients for Anemia

Anemia is a condition caused by multiple factors (but most commonly low iron levels). If you are anemic (which you can find out with a blood test at your doctor's office), you may find it helpful to take all of the following supplements in addition to selenium. You can add these nutrients through diet or in supplement form.

Iron

Iron deficient anemia is by-far the most common form of anemia, and if you have anemia, chances are your iron levels are also low. Iron deficient anemia is more common in women and children and the elderly than in adult men. However, even men can become iron deficient, particularly if they are vegetarian or do not eat red meat. Increasing both the iron content of your diet and supplementing with a small amount of iron can help boost hemoglobin levels in the blood and reverse anemia.

Vitamin B12

A certain form of anemia (megaloblastic) can be caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency. A lot of Americans are deficient in B12, which means that even if you aren't directly suffering anemia symptoms from a lack of B12, you are likely deficient in the vitamin anyway and boosting your intake will only help. Vitamin B12 is also linked with brain health, controlling mood swings, and sustaining energy, which are common side effects of anemia as well.

Folic Acid

Folic acid is important for everyone, but particularly so for pregnant women. Folic acid prevents some forms of birth defects. A lot of grains are now fortified with folic acid, making a deficiency in this nutrient less common, but if you don't eat a lot of grains you still may be deficient in the nutrient. Folic acid works together with vitamin B12 to prevent megaloblastic anemia.

Zinc

Zinc and copper work together to prevent and cure anemia. Copper and zinc are used to increase red blood cells and hemoglobin. Zinc should never be taken without also taking copper, as zinc can prevent the absorption of copper when taken alone, which can cause its own set of problems. Copper deficiency can lead to one form of anemia as well. Individuals with anemia are often low in zinc and copper as well as selenium and iron.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C boosts the absorption of other nutrients, particularly iron. This is why sometimes you see iron added to orange juice in grocery stores. Giving vitamin C supplements in conjunction with other anemia supplements boosts the effectiveness of all supplements and also reduces cancer risk by increasing the number of antioxidants in the body.

Selenium is Important for Anemia

Anemia caused by iron is the most common type, but low selenium levels often also play a role in anemia. Anemia is a curable condition, largely helped by adding more anemia-fighting foods to the diet. Improve your diet and add the supplements listed above and your anemia won't last long.

Next Article: Home Remedies to Treat Anemia