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Selenium Toxicity

By

Larry E. Johnson

, MD, PhD,

  • Associate Professor of Geriatrics and Family and Preventive Medicine
  • University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
  • Medical Director
  • Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System

Last full review/revision May 2020| Content last modified May 2020
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Selenium (Se) is a part of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase, which metabolizes hydroperoxides formed from polyunsaturated fatty acids. Selenium is also a part of the enzymes that deiodinate thyroid hormones. Generally, selenium acts as an antioxidant that works with vitamin E.

Plasma levels of selenium vary from 8 to 25 mcg/dL (0.1 to 0.3 micromoles/L), depending on selenium intake.

At high doses (> 900 mcg/day), selenium causes toxicity.

Diagnosis of selenium toxicity is usually clinical; sometimes blood glutathione peroxidase is measured.

Manifestations include hair loss, abnormal nails, dermatitis, peripheral neuropathy, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, irritability, and a garlic odor of the breath.

Toxic levels of plasma selenium are not well defined.

Treatment of selenium toxicity involves reducing selenium consumption.

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