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What is a Selenium Deficiency?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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Selenium deficiency develops when a person is lacking in the amount of selenium he needs to help sustain his health. Selenium is a mineral that the body uses to help keep the immune system functioning well. This trace mineral also helps to keep the thyroid gland functioning as it should. Additionally, selenium is used in the production of substances that are important to cellular structures. When a person has a selenium deficiency, he may suffer from a range of illnesses and conditions, including autoimmune conditions, skin conditions, and viral and thyroid disorders.

The potential for the development of autoimmune disorders is one of the primary concerns for a person with selenium deficiency. Essentially, an autoimmune disorder occurs when the immune system identifies a person’s healthy body tissue as a harmful substance. It then begins to attack and destroy those body tissues. Some research shows that a body without enough selenium may be less capable of dealing with stresses, including those that are nutritional in nature, and infectious agents. This increased susceptibility, some scientists believe, may be the reason selenium deficiency puts a person at higher risk for developing an autoimmune condition.

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In addition to the development of autoimmune disorders, a person with a selenium deficiency may experience the impaired functioning of his thyroid gland, which is a small gland located at the base of a person’s neck. This gland is responsible for producing and storing hormones that are important in a range of bodily processes, including the regulation of such things as blood pressure and temperature. The thyroid gland also plays a role in heart rate regulation and metabolism.

Sometimes a person has a selenium deficiency and severe malnutrition at the same time. When this occurs, a person may develop such symptoms as pain in the muscles and muscle weakness. A person suffering from both malnutrition and selenium deficiency may also experience abnormal discoloration of his hair, skin, and nail beds.

Most people can get adequate selenium by consuming a well-balanced diet. It is found in such foods as mushrooms, mustard seeds, sunflower seeds, and oats. A person can also get selenium by eating eggs, turkey, lamb, and calf’s liver. Some seafood sources include shrimp, cod, tuna, halibut, and salmon. It’s important to note that the amount of selenium a person can get from plant sources depends on the levels of selenium found in the soil in which these foods are grown. Plant foods grown in selenium-deficient soils may not contribute optimum amounts of selenium to a person’s diet.

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