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This Mineral May Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease, New Study Finds

A deficiency in this essential trace mineral is associated with increased inflammation in older adults.
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selenium

Are you watching your selenium intake? A new study suggests that you should be, based on its finding that selenium deficiency can cause increased inflammation and risk of cardiovascular disease in older adults.

Selenium is an essential trace mineral that naturally occurs in a number of foods, such as brazil nuts, pork, beef, chicken, turkey, and seafood, like yellowfin tuna, sardines, oysters, and clams. Enriched foods, including some types of bread, often also contain selenium. (Related: The One Vitamin Doctors Are Urging Everyone to Take Right Now).

The new study, which is set to publish in the March edition of the journal Experimental Gerontology, contributes to an extensive body of research on the micronutrient's many health benefits, including its role as an antioxidant and in maintaining thyroid health, its protection against heart disease and mental decline, and its beneficial influence on the immune system. It can also improve sperm motility in otherwise infertile men.

The latest study observed an elderly population in Italy and found that study participants who had low levels of selenium in the blood were more at risk for cardiovascular diseases. They were also more likely to have inflammation.

While this new study and previous research show that selenium is an essential part of human body function, the key thing to remember is that it's only needed in small amounts. Brazil nuts, for example, contain 68-91 micrograms (mcg) of selenium per nut (in comparison to ham, another selenium-rich food, which contains 42 mcg in a 3-ounce serving).

If you have too many servings of brazil nuts a week (or take too many dietary supplements containing selenium), you risk selenium toxicity, which can cause diarrhea, fatigue, hair loss, and other negative effects on your body. For context, the upper limit for selenium is 400 mcg daily.

Beyond ensuring that you're not deficient in selenium, there are plenty of other ways to fight inflammation and reduce your risk of heart disease. Incorporate anti-inflammatory foods into your diet—many of them, like oats, will even contain small amounts of selenium! In addition, try your best to stay away from foods that can cause heart disease, like trans fats.

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Urvija Banerji
Urvija Banerji has written about food for publications like Atlas Obscura, Eater, and The Swaddle. Read more