Selenium: Protection Against Viruses and Bacteria

Changing our behavior will help to protect us against viral infections, e.g. wearing a mask in public, washing our hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub, maintaining a distance of at least one meter from other people, avoiding crowded places, not touching our eyes, nose, and mouth, covering our mouth and nose with a bent elbow or tissue when we cough or sneeze, self-isolating if we have symptoms. But, equally important, we should make sure we have optimal selenium intakes and status. Selenium strengthens the immune system and protects against viral and bacterial infections.

In a 2015 review of the research literature, the selenium researchers Holger Steinbrenner and Helmut Sies from the Heinrich-Heine-University in Düsseldorf, Germany, give an overview of the effect of selenium status and supplementation in infectious diseases caused by viruses (e.g. HIV, influenza A virus, hepatitis C virus, polio virus, West Nile virus) and bacteria (e.g. M. tuberculosis, Helicobacter pylori) [Steinbrenner 2015].

  • Deficient intake and status of the essential trace element selenium are associated with viral and bacterial infections.
  • In the absence of adequate selenium status, otherwise benign strains of Coxsackie viruses and influenza viruses can mutate to highly virulent strains.
  • Nutritional supplementation with selenium supply to boost selenium status seems to confer health benefits for patients suffering from some viral diseases, in particular patients with HIV and influenza A virus infections.
  • Multi-micronutrient supplements containing selenium have been shown to improve several clinical and lifestyle variables in patients co-infected with HIV and Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
  • Selenium status may affect the function of cells of both adaptive and innate immunity.
  • Supplemental intakes of selenium are associated with the enhanced proliferation and differentiation of naive CD4-positive T lymphocytes toward T helper 1 cells, thereby supporting the acute cellular immune response.
  • Similarly, supplemental intakes of selenium are associated with the directing of macrophages toward the M2 type, thereby counteracting the excessive activation of the immune system with resulting host tissue damage.
  • Data from epidemiological studies and intervention trials, with selenium administered alone or in combination with other micronutrients have shown that selenium status and intake affect immune system functions.

Selenium Status and Intake

In her 2012 review article in The Lancet, the selenium researcher Margaret P. Rayman points out that selenium intakes average 40 micrograms/day in Europe compared with 93 micrograms/day for women and 134 micrograms/day for men in the United States.  Nutritional supplements can provide an additional 50–200 micrograms of selenium per day [Rayman 2012]. read more

Selenium Status and Male Infertility

Storck bringing baby
Without optimal selenium status, the stork cannot bring the baby.  Selenium supplementation can improve male performance in reproduction by protecting immature spermatozoa and by improving sperm motility.

Approximately 50% of the problems in couples unable to conceive are caused by male infertility. Something like two percent of all men have sub-optimal sperm parameters [Kumar and Singh 2015]:

  • low sperm concentration
  • poor sperm motility
  • abnormal sperm cell morphology
  • or combinations thereof

Selenium Status and Male Infertility

The role of selenium in male infertility has not been fully explained. However, some data show that selenium plays a role in the protection of sperm cells against oxidative stress [Buhling 2019].

In particular, the selenoproteins glutathione peroxidase GPx4 and selenoprotein P are essential to the process of sperm development and male fertility [Rayman 2012].

      • In the testes, the GPx4 selenoproteins protect immature spermatozoa cells against oxidative damage.
      • GPx4 selenoproteins are also important for good sperm motility.
      • Selenoprotein P supplies selenium to the testes.

      Selenium is a trace mineral that is essential for many important processes in the human body. Selenium is incorporated into enzymes that function as antioxidants. The balance between protective antioxidants and harmful free radicals in cells plays a decisive role in the prevention of disease [Rayman 2002]. read more