When it comes to healthy eating, most people are often concerned about how many macronutrients they are ingesting per day, and completely overlook the multitude of micronutrients found in different kinds of food. While watching your protein, carbs and fat intake goes a long way in controlling weight, if you want to stay healthy and stave off diseases, understanding your micronutrients (aka minerals and vitamins) is also essential. Two such important micronutrients are zinc and selenium. In today’s article, we shall be outlining the benefits of these two micronutrients and why adding foods rich in selenium and zinc could be good, not only for your health, but for your overall appearance too.
What Are Selenium And Zinc?
Of these two important nutrients, zinc is probably the most well known by many people. According to the National Institutes of Health, zinc is an essential nutrient that all humans need so that our bodies can function normally.
Once consumed, zinc’s benefits in the body range from wound healing, development and function of immune cells, DNA synthesis and protein production, the activation of enzymes necessary for metabolism, digestion, nerve function, etc., treating diarrhea, improved reproductive health – especially in men, bone formation and strength, and much more (14, 3, 16, 15).
Like zinc, selenium is also a trace element that is important for human development and general health. In the same way that our bodies do not make zinc and so we have to get it from foods, so also it does not make selenium and we have to actively get it from food sources – and spring water, as selenium naturally occurs in water.
Once ingested, selenium acts as a powerful antioxidant that helps prevent cell damage – and all illnesses caused related to cell damage by preventing and fighting oxidative stress. Although more research is needed, scientists have also linked the presence of high selenium levels in the blood/body with a reduced risk of certain cancers, improved thyroid function, improved heart and brain health, improved immunity – especially in the prevention of the progression of HIV to AIDS, as well as improved reproductive health (7, 13, 9).
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Should You Take Foods Rich In Selenium And Zinc Together?
Yes, if you can, you should try to take zinc and selenium food together. The reasoning behind this is that when combined, these two chemical elements may have a synergistic effect.
For those unaware, a synergistic effect is a situation where the combined effect of two chemicals is much greater than the sum of the effects of each agent given alone. In this case, ingesting both selenium and zinc together might make the chemicals work far better than ingesting each by itself and several studies suggest this:
- An animal study published in the Biological Trace Element Research journal in 2021 found that fish that were fed a diet enriched with both selenium and zinc had higher immunity, faster growth rate, better weight gain, higher hemoglobin, red blood cells, and globulin levels, and better blood and gut health, as well as better oxidative stress responses in comparison to the fish that were fed only selenium or only zinc or weren’t fed these micronutrients at all (12).
- A human study published in 2019 by the Journal of Cancer Prevention stated that because these two chemical elements play a vital role in the alleviation of oxidative stress and in the protection DNA, from the attack of reactive oxygen species, scientists believe that adding more animal or even vegetarian food rich in selenium and zinc could help protect against cancers that originate from DNA damage (4).
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What Foods Are High In Zinc And Selenium?
Now that you understand the benefits of these two micronutrients and how consuming them – especially together can benefit your health, here are some foods rich in both elements that you should highly consider adding to your weekly meal plan:
- Meat – Beef, pork or lamb
- Poultry – turkey and chicken
- Fatty fish and other seafood – shrimp, lobster, sardines, salmon, oysters, clams, halibut and crab
- Legumes, lentils, chickpeas
- Dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese
- Whole grains especially oats
- Leafy greens and vegetables such as mushrooms, spinach, and kale
- Nuts and seeds eg. Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds and hemp seeds
Selenium: Vitamin Or Nutrient?
As explained above, selenium is a trace element or essential micronutrient, not a vitamin.
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What Are Some Selenium Benefits For Hair, Skin And Nails?
For those who read the ingredients lists of their hair, skin, or nail supplements, you may note that selenium is often listed among a multitude of other ingredients, but does it truly work? Because of this trace elements’ ability to support your immune system, protect against oxidative stress and fight against inflammation, selenium could work to improve your skin, hairs, and nail health:
- Skin – When it comes to selenium skin benefits, it may be helpful for those who suffer from skin disorders. Studies have found that for people suffering from either psoriasis or epidermolysis bullosa may benefit from adding foods rich in selenium to their diets. It is also suggested that the element can help against skin cancer as it has cellular antioxidant defenses and protective effects against UV radiation-induced damage to skin cells – moreover, a selenium deficiency might be associated with an increased risk of skin cancer (5, 11, 8)
- Hair – For those who suffer from dandruff, use of selenium sulfide as a topical treatment, especially as/in a shampoo can help relieve itching and flaking of the scalp and remove the dry, scaly particles (2). It also helps in hair growth, although too much of it may lead to hair loss (6).
- Nails – Both finger and toe nails use this trace element for growth (10).
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What Is Zinc And Selenium Good For?
As seen in the section above, our bodies need these two trace elements to function at their best. Both zinc and selenium influence complex bodily processes such as reproduction, boosting immune system and metabolism function, DNA production, wound healing, enzymatic reactions, growth and development, thyroid function, and much more.
What Foods Are Highest In Selenium?
At 538 mcg of selenium per 28 grams (about 6 whole) Brazil nuts are the top food with the highest amount of this trace element (1).
The Bottom Line
While zinc and selenium deficiencies are not quite common, ensuring that you are getting enough of these foods that are rich in selenium and zinc will not only stave off the deficiency but will go a long way in ensuring that you remain as healthy as can be with your body working properly.
Remember that the recommended amounts per day for selenium are 55 micrograms for adult men and women (above 19 years) – pregnant women need 60 micrograms and lactating women need 70 micrograms a day. As for zinc, the recommended daily amount of zinc is 8 milligrams (mg) for women and 11 mg for adult men, while pregnant and lactating women need 11 and 12 mg, respectively.
If you have any questions regarding your intake or if you suspect that you might be deficient, please speak to your doctor before altering your diet.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Brazil nuts (2020, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- DANDRUFF: THE MOST COMMERCIALLY EXPLOITED SKIN DISEASE (2010, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Designing hydrolytic zinc metalloenzymes (2014, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effect of the Interaction Between Selenium and Zinc on DNA Repair in Association With Cancer Prevention (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Gastrointestinal complications of inherited epidermolysis bullosa: cumulative experience of the National Epidermolysis Bullosa Registry (2008, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Nutrition of women with hair loss problem during the period of menopause (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Selenium (2021, ods.od.nih.gov)
- Selenium and psoriasis (2012, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Selenium and Thyroid Disease: From Pathophysiology to Treatment (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Selenium in human nails : a preliminary study using INAA (2013, researchgate.net)
- Selenium, ultraviolet radiation and the skin (2008, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- Synergistic Effects of Selenium and Zinc Oxide Nanoparticles on Growth Performance, Hemato-biochemical Profile, Immune and Oxidative Stress Responses, and Intestinal Morphometry of Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) (2021, link.springer.com)
- The importance of selenium to human health (2000, thelancet.com)
- Zinc (2018, ods.od.nih.gov)
- Zinc and its importance for human health: An integrative review (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Zinc is an Essential Element for Male Fertility: A Review of Zn Roles in Men’s Health, Germination, Sperm Quality, and Fertilization (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)