The trace mineral selenium functions primarily as a component of the antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase which works with vitamin E in preventing free radical damage to cell membranes. Low levels of selenium have been linked to a higher risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease, inflammatory diseases, and other conditions associated with increased free radical damage including premature aging and cataract formation.
Severe selenium deficiency is associated with Keshan disease - a severe heart disorder that affects primarily children and women of child-bearing age in some areas of China where selenium levels in the soil are very low. However, severe selenium deficient states are extremely rare in North America. More common is the chronically low selenium intake that is associated with an increased risk for cancer and/or heart disease, and low immune function.
Selenium is also essential in the utilization of essential fatty acids, necessary for the production of prostaglandins, and promotes normal growth and fertility.
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