Merck Manual

Please confirm that you are a health care professional

honeypot link

Selenium Deficiency

By

Larry E. Johnson

, MD, PhD, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Reviewed/Revised Jul 2023
View PATIENT EDUCATION

Selenium (Se) is a part of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase, which metabolizes hydroperoxides formed from polyunsaturated fatty acids. Selenium is also a part of the enzymes that deiodinate thyroid hormones. Generally, selenium acts as an antioxidant that works with vitamin E.

Plasma levels of selenium vary from 8 to 25 mcg/dL (0.1 to 0.3 micromoles/L), depending on selenium intake.

Selenium deficiency is rare, even in New Zealand and Finland, where selenium intake is 30 to 50 mcg/day, compared with 100 to 250 mcg/day in the US and Canada.

In certain areas of China, where intake averages 10 to 15 mcg/day, selenium deficiency predisposes patients to Keshan disease, an endemic viral cardiomyopathy affecting primarily children and young women. This cardiomyopathy can be prevented but not cured by sodium selenite supplements of 50 mcg/day orally.

Patients receiving long-term total parenteral nutrition have developed selenium deficiency with muscle pain and tenderness that responded to a selenomethionine supplement.

In Siberian Russia and China, growing children with selenium deficiency may develop chronic osteoarthropathy (Kashin-Beck disease).

Diagnosis of selenium deficiency is made clinically or sometimes by measuring glutathione peroxidase activity or plasma selenium, but neither of these tests is readily available.

Treatment of selenium deficiency consists of sodium selenite 100 mcg/day orally.

General references

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Drug Name Select Trade
Alph-E-Mixed , AQUA-E, Aquasol E , Aquavite-E
Selepen
View PATIENT EDUCATION
NOTE: This is the Professional Version. CONSUMERS: View Consumer Version
quiz link

Test your knowledge

Take a Quiz! 
iOS ANDROID
iOS ANDROID
iOS ANDROID
TOP