How To Know If You Have A Selenium Deficiency: Signs And Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of selenium deficiency.

“Selenium is used by the body to create proteins (selenoproteins), vital antioxidant enzymes that protect your cells from damage due to exposure to free radicals. They may offer some protection against heart disease and even cancer. Some selenoproteins also help with regulating thyroid function and maintaining normal immune system function.1

Selenium has antioxidant benefits for your body and is vital for protecting you from some chronic disease and maintaining normal function of some vital systems in the body. So what happens when your body doesn’t get enough? You may not need a whole lot of selenium, but not getting enough of this trace mineral can still be problematic. Here’s how to spot those telltale signs of a deficiency and know if your symptoms are linked to low selenium intake.


Consuming Less Than The RDA Of 55 mcg May Cause A Selenium Deficiency

“You can find selenium in foods like seafood, brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, beef, liver, mushrooms, and poultry.2

It may seem like you need a lot of selenium since it has such an important role to play. But important though it is, you don’t actually require a whole lot of it – and that’s why it is referred to as a “trace” mineral, that is, something you need in small amounts. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) has been pegged at 55 mcg for adults, though women need 60 mcg when they are pregnant and 70 mcg while they are nursing their babies.3 If you don’t get enough selenium, whether it is through your diet or supplements, you could wind up with a selenium deficiency.


Signs Of A Selenium Deficiency Depend On Which System It Affects

Many of the symptoms you will experience with a selenium deficiency are linked to the systems they impact. For instance, you might find it results in an underactive thyroid, which in turn causes certain symptoms.45 The next few sections will help you spot signs and symptoms linked to the deficiency directly and indirectly.

1. Pain And Weakness From Muscular Problems

A selenium deficiency can cause you to experience symptoms of muscular weakness, joint problems, and even osteoarthritis.67 Here’s what you should be looking out for:

  • Joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle pain
  • Muscular weakness
  • Tenderness in the body

People with chronic muscular problems often test positive for selenium deficiency. In one study, 60% of participants with fibromuscular rheumatism showed improvements in 12 weeks when supplemented with selenium.8

2. Fertility-Related Signs From Reproductive System Issues

Researchers are exploring the role selenium has in normal growth and development of the body, including in reproduction. Selenium is needed by the body for sperm motility and reduces the risk of miscarriages.9 By extension, some reproductive problems in both men and women may well be linked to a selenium deficiency. It has also been implicated in obstetric complications like miscarriage, preterm labor, gestational diabetes, obstetric cholestasis(pregnancy linked bile and liver problem), fetal growth restriction, and preeclampsia.10


3. Fatigue, Weight Gain, And Hair Loss From Thyroid Problems

Selenium is essential for thyroid hormone synthesis and metabolism. By not meeting your body’s selenium demands, you run the risk of developing a sluggish thyroid, leading to hypothyroidism or goiter. This typically happens in combination with an iodine deficiency. Symptoms of a thyroid problem include these signs and symptoms:11

  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue/tiredness
  • Weight gain
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Muscle cramps
  • Heavy/irregular periods
  • Loss of libido

4. Joint Damage And Stunted Growth From Kashin-Beck Disease

A selenium deficiency could cause you to develop Kashin-Beck disease, a joint and bone disorder that is geographically concentrated in parts of central China, eastern Siberia, and northern Korea.12
Symptoms of the disease include:

  • Stunted growth in children
  • Multiple joint damages, deformed joints, enlarged joints
  • Dwarfism
  • Shortened fingers
  • Restriction of movement of joints, that is reduced range of motion, particularly of the ankle, knee, wrist, and elbow.
  • Arthritic pain
  • Morning stiffness
  • Reduced muscle strength
  • Chronic pain
  • General fatigue

5. Heart-Related Abnormalities From Keshan Disease

Selenium deficiency may put you at risk of Keshan disease, a heart disease.1314 This form of cardiomyopathy or heart disease has the following signs and symptoms:

  • Blood circulation issues
  • Abnormalities in the endocardium, the smooth membrane lining heart chambers/heart valve surface
  • Death of the heart muscle tissue (myocardium necrosis)
  • Cardiogenic shock
  • Enlarged heart
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Abnormal ECGs, which measure the electrical activity of the heart

Some People Are More At Risk Of A Selenium Deficiency

Selenium intake in the United States tends to be, on average, enough to meet the RDA numbers recommended. But there are some groups at risk of a deficiency. You could be at risk if you have been undergoing kidney dialysis in the long term/on an ongoing basis. Those who have HIV and malabsorption issues are also vulnerable.15 In addition, those living in selenium-deficient regions may also be susceptible to the problem.


Excessive Selenium Too Can Cause Health Problems

What if you have a problem that’s quite the opposite? Sometimes, in a bid to avoid a deficiency you may wind up having too much of a good thing. And if that happens with selenium, here are some things to watch out for.16

  • Bad breath(garlicky)
  • Metallic taste in your mouth
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin rashes
  • Brittle nails
  • Brittle hair
  • Hair loss
  • Discolored teeth
  • Irritability
  • Nervous system problems

The key is to avoid excessive selenium intake, but get enough to keep your body plied with what it needs. Eating foods rich in the nutrient is one good way to ensure you don’t go overboard. If you choose enriched foods or supplements, take them with the guidance of your doctor.