Strong Substantiation for Selenium and Immune Function

Inflammation and oxidative stress that impact proper immune function are the likely culprits behind a host of modern health issues that are reaching chronic proportions. Though many nutrients play a role in immune function and maintaining healthy inflammatory response, emerging science now points to the importance of the essential trace mineral selenium (SE).1 We now know that selenium is essential for effective and efficient operation of many aspects of the immune system, and that low selenium status is linked to various diseases tied to immunity and inflammation, including asthma, cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease as well as preventing viral infections July-Main-Post-22,3

With more than a billion people worldwide thought to have inadequate intake of this nutrient,4 selenium status has critical public health implications. As such, it is not a tough leap to say selenium supplementation will become increasingly important to help support better protection from infections and chronic disease. Much information is emerging on how selenium works. It is first a powerful antioxidant, which carries out biological effects through incorporation into selenoproteins (selenium-dependent enzymes) that regulate reactive oxygen species (ROS) and redox status in nearly all tissues, which in turn initiates immune response and influences inflammation.5

New evidence now notes the roles of individual selenoproteins in regulating inflammation and immunity which is providing additional insight into the influence of selenium.6  For example,  glutathione peroxidases (GPx) are selenoproteins that function as important redox regulators and cellular antioxidants that have the potential to reduce damaging oxygen specifics such as hydrogen peroxide and lipid hyperoxides into harmless substances like water and alcohol by coupling their reduction with oxidation of glutathione.7 

What makes selenium so important is still being discovered, but a wide range of research is offering compelling evidence that adequate levels are critical. Glutathione (GSH), for example, is a pillar of a healthy immune system and higher blood levels of selenium have been associated with higher blood glutathione (GSH) levels as well as higher activity of GCL (-glutamyl cysteine ligase), the rate limiting enzyme in GSH synthesis.8 Selenium supplementation has also been found to increase endogenous antioxidant enzymes such as catalase, GPx and GST.Selenium also helps to manage thyroid function, with the thyroid gland containing more selenium than any other organ and expressing specific selenoproteins.10   Studies are now looking at selenium’s effect in thyroid autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s Disease as well as its impact on chronic asthma.11

Who’s at risk of selenium deficiency?

Beyond lifestyle issues like poor diet and more stress, there are several reasons for the disturbingly high rates of selenium insufficiency. Selenium is present in the soil and enters foods like garlic and sunflower seeds through plant proteins. However many of these foods are not regularly consumed in whole food form and processing can diminish selenium content.

July-Main-BlogAnother problem is that selenium in soil may be low in certain parts of the world. While selenium in soil remains relatively high in North America overall and especially in the northern plains, it tends to be lower in the Great Lakes region and east to New England, on parts of the Atlantic Coast and in the Pacific Northwest.12  Selenium in soil also tends to be lower in China, Russia, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.  Therefore, consumers who eat foods grown primarily in these regions may be at higher risk of insufficient intake or all-out deficiency.

These effects are often amplified in older consumers, who are likely to see a decline in nutritional status as well as immune function as they age. Numerous studies have shown that aging can cause a progressive pro-oxidative shift due to an increased imbalance between the generation rate of oxidant compounds, such as ROS, and their rate of clearance by antioxidant systems.13 When selenium is incorporated into crucial antioxidant selenoenzymes, they can provide protection and may even reduce oxidative damage.14

There is also evidence that not all selenium forms in supplement products are well utilized by the body, so consumers who take a selenium supplement that is not well absorbed will not reap the benefits of increasing their selenium intake. It is actually well-documented that selenium-enriched yeast is far superior to other forms with respect to bioavailability. Research looking at direct comparisons between SelenoExcell®, a proprietary high-selenium yeast and selenomethionine (SeMet), found that the SelenoExcell® outperformed the SeMet in healthy men for both bioavailability and bioefficacy.15

To learn more about important opportunities to develop immune support products with selenium, we have gathered a broad range of resources to cover a variety of business needs from current clinical research to formulation insights and strategies.



  1. Arthur JR et al. Selenium in the immune system. Jrnl of Nutr. 2003;133:14572-1459S.
  2. Hoffman PR, Berry MJ. The influence of selenium on immune response. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2008 November;52(11):1273-1280.
  3. Gill, H, Walker G. Selenium, immune function and resistance to viral infections. Nutrition and Dietetics 2008; 65(Suppl.3):S41-S47.
  4. Haug A et al. How to use the world’s scarce selenium resources efficiently to increase the selenium concentration in food. Microb Ecol Health Dis. 2007. Dec ;19(4): 209-228.
  5. Hoffman PR, Berry MJ. The influence of selenium on immune response. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2008 November;52(11):1273-1280.
  6. Huang Z, Rose AH, Hoffmann PR. The role of selenium in inflammation, and immunity: From Molecular mechanisms to therapeutic opportunities. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2012 Apr. 1;16(7):705-743.
  7. Immunity In Depth. Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center.
  8. Richie Jr JR, Muscat JE, Ellison I et al. Association of selenium status in blood glutathione concentrations in blacks and whites. Nutr Cancer 2011;63;367-375.
  9. Biller-Takahashi JD et al. The immune system is limited by oxidative stress: Dietary selenium promotes optimal antioxidant status  and greatest immune defence in pacu Piaractus mesopotamicus. Fish Shellfish Immunology. 2015;47:360-367.
  10. Drutel A, et al. Selenium and the Thyroid Gland: Good news for clinicians. Clin Edocrinol (Oxf).2013 Feb;78(2):155-164.
  11. Van Zuuren EJ et al. Selenium Supplementation for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Cochrane Database Syst Review. 2013 June 6;(6):CD010223.
  12. Selenium: What is it and where do I get it? Dr. Mercola. April 25, 2016.
  13. Hoffmann PR, Berry MJ. The influence of selenium on immune response. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2008 Nov.;52(11):1273-1280.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Richie Jr JP, Das A, Calcagnotto AM et al.  Comparative effects of two different forms of selenium on oxidative stress biomarkers in healthy men: a randomized clinical trial.  Cancer Prev Res  2014;7:796-804

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 These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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