Selenium is a relatively rare occurring chemical element that is a byproduct of copper and sulfide ore mining. Its name means “moon” in Greek, and it has an atomic number of 34. As a non-metal element, its chemical abbreviation is Se. Jons Jacob Berzelius discovered selenium in 1817 and first named it tellerium. While it does have commercial uses, primarily as a medical ingredient, it also is an important dietary element.
It can be found in foods like nuts, seafood, and liver. People are encouraged to consume at least 55 mg of selenium each day to ensure their overall good health.

Signs of a Selenium Deficiency

Although rare, selenium deficiency poses a unique risk to people who suffer from this condition. It can cause osteoarthropathy in children who fail to consume enough of this mineral. Children, as well as adult women likewise can develop an incurable condition known as Keshan disease, which is a type of viral cardiomyopathy that is treated by the consumption of 50 mg of selenium per day.

It also can contribute to the development of conditions like goiter and hypothyroidism. Selenium deficiency is diagnosed through a series of blood tests. To treat milder cases, doctors typically prescribe selenium supplements and encourage people to eat more foods that contain this mineral.

Selenium Excess

Selenium toxicity also presents a host of troublesome symptoms that can be life-altering and painful. Someone who has consumed too much of the mineral can suffer from hair loss and brittle fingernails.

People who do not eat enough of selenium also can experience dermatitis, nausea, chronic diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, and irritability. They also may have breath that smells like garlic and have neuropathy in their fingers and toes. Doctors will treat the toxicity of selenium by calling for people to eat fewer foods that are rich in this element.