Nutrition Library


General Information
  • Selenium is an essential trace element.
  • The selenium content of food depends on the selenium content of the soil.
  • In Central Europe, soils are mostly poor in selenium. In some EU countries, selenium is added to the feed used in factory farming. Finland has taken a different route: they have been systematically adding selenium to agricultural fertilizers for decades.
  • Overall, Europeans do not have an adequate intake of selenium, which makes selenium a critical nutrient. Even with an omnivorous diet, one-third of the adult population in Europe (and in Great Britain) consumes less than 35 µg selenium per day – well below the recommended intake of 60-70 µg per day.
  • Only Finland has a sufficient selenium status.
  • In the US, selenium intake is mostly sufficient due to the fact that soils are mostly rich in selenium.
Why Do We Need Selenium?
  • It is a component of selenium-containing proteins and acts as a cofactor for multiple enzymes; as such, selenium has a wide variety of very important functions for the body
  • Important for a strong immune system
  • Antioxidant/protective function
  • Important for thyroid hormone metabolism
  • Important for cell division and DNA biosynthesis
  • Modulates inflammatory processes and is especially anti-inflammatory
  • Supports the detoxification system
Possible Causes of Deficiency

Low intake:

  • Diet containing few selenium-rich foods (see below)

Reduced absorption:

  • High intake of chromium, zinc, or vitamin C.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Leaky gut
  • Oral intake of arsenic, lead, cadmium, or mercury 

Increased excretion:

  • Additional arsenic contamination (biliary excretion of arsenic-selenium compounds)

    Interaction with medication:

    • e.g., antacids, clozapine, corticoids, diuretics, laxatives, valproic acid
    Symptoms of Deficiency
    • General: susceptibility to infection, fatigue, depression
    • Immune system: increased tendency to allergies, depressed immune system
    • Thyroid: impaired conversion of T4 to T3, hypothyroidism
    • Skin/nails: streaked fingernails, erythema (reddening of the skin)
    • Muscle weakness, myopathy
    • Reduced fertility
    • Serious deficiency can cause cardiomyopathy (Keshan disease) or degenerative osteoarthritis (Keshan-Beck disease)
    Recommended Intakes

    Recommended intake for adults:

    • German Nutrition Society (DGE): women 60 µg/day, men 70 µg/day
    • USA Food and Nutrition Board (FNB): 55 µg/day for men and women

    Breastfeeding women:

    • German Nutrition Society (DGE): 75 µg/day
    • USA Food and Nutrition Board (FNB): 70 µg/day

    in children, depending on age, see:

    Excessive intake (> 400 µg/day) should be avoided, as it can lead to an overdose:

    • chronic overdose symptoms: hair loss, brittle fingernails, neuropathies
    • acute overdose symptoms: diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain
    The Best Plant Sources (per 100 g)

    Good sources include nuts, legumes, grains, sesame, mushrooms and soy.

    • Brazil nuts – 1,900 µg (note: large fluctuations)
    • Boletus mushrooms, fresh – 187 µg
    • Sunflower seeds – 79 µg
    • Sesame – 34.4 µg
    • Lentils – 46 µg
    • Mushroom – 26 µg


    • Oatmeal – 10 µg
    • Peanuts – 7.5 µg
    • Soybeans – 7.3 µg
    • Walnuts – 6 µg
    • Chickpeas, cooked – 4 µg
    • Lentils, cooked – 4 µg
    • Biesalski, H.K., Bischoff, S.C., Pirlich, M., Weidmann, A., (2018). Ernährungsmedizin – Nach dem Curriculum Ernährungsmedizin der Bundesärztekammer (5.Auflage). Stuttgart: Georg Thieme Verlag

    • Roman Viñas B, Ribas Barba L, Ngo J, Gurinovic M, Novakovic R, Cavelaars A, de Groot L.C.P.G.M, van’t Veer P, Matthys C, Serra Majem L., Projected prevalence of inadaquate nutrient intakes in Europe. Ann Nutr Metab 2011, 59:84–95

    • Gröber, U. (2011): Mikronährstoffe. Metabolic Tuning – Prävention – Therapie. 3. Aufl. Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft mbH Stuttgart