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Selenium Deficiency


Larry E. Johnson

, MD, PhD, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Last full review/revision Jun 2020| Content last modified Jun 2020
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Selenium deficiency is rare and is caused by consuming too little of the mineral selenium.

Selenium occurs in all tissues. Selenium works with vitamin E as an antioxidant. It helps protect cells against damage by free radicals, which are reactive by-products of normal cell activity. Selenium may help protect against some cancers. Selenium is also necessary for the thyroid gland to function normally. (See also Overview of Minerals Overview of Minerals Minerals are necessary for the normal functioning of the body’s cells. The body needs relatively large quantities of Calcium Chloride Magnesium Phosphate read more .)

Selenium deficiency is rare, even in New Zealand and Finland, where selenium intake is much lower than in the United States and Canada. In certain areas of China where selenium intake is even lower, people with selenium deficiency are more likely to develop Keshan disease, a viral disease that affects mainly children and young women. Keshan disease damages the walls of the heart, resulting in cardiomyopathy Overview of Cardiomyopathy Cardiomyopathy refers to progressive impairment of the structure and function of the muscular walls of the heart chambers. There are three main types of cardiomyopathy: Dilated cardiomyopathy... read more Overview of Cardiomyopathy .

Growing children with selenium deficiency may develop a slowly progressive, disabling disorder of the joints and bone (Kashin-Beck disease). This disease may be more common in Siberia and China.

Doctors suspect selenium deficiency based on the person’s circumstances and symptoms. Blood tests for this deficiency are not readily available.

Treatment with a selenium supplement may result in a complete recovery. Taking selenium supplements can prevent but not cure cardiomyopathy due to Keshan disease.

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Thiamin, vitamin B1, is widely available in common foods. This vitamin is essential for metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, as well as for normal nerve and heart function. Which of the following is NOT a potential cause of thiamin deficiency?
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