You’ve probably tried at least one diet this year. Maybe you’ve even had some success. But if you find that it takes twice the effort to lose even half the weight you used to be able to effortlessly drop 10 years ago, you may be stuck in a fat trap caused by low levels of a key metabolism-stoking mineral that’s likely sapping your energy and health. The missing link? Selenium.
“Selenium deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies I see,” asserts thyroid expert Izabella Wentz, PharmD. In fact, shortfalls are much more common today than they were 50 years ago, due to modern farming practices, which deplete the soil of important minerals. Plus, many popular diets eliminate the richest sources of selenium, like grains, fish, meats, and dairy, Wentz adds. “Often, an attempt to find a more gut-friendly diet — for example, a gluten-free plan — only further lowers a person’s selenium intake.”
The problem? Shortfalls of selenium cause thyroid function to stall, making weight loss extremely challenging. “When selenium is low, the immune system starts attacking organs, particularly the thyroid gland,” explains Ridha Arem, MD, founder of the Texas Thyroid Institute. Indeed, in a study of 1,900 adults, researchers found that women with lower levels of selenium were more likely to have thyroid damage than those with adequate levels. And as the thyroid becomes increasingly damaged, metabolism slows further, and the body burns fewer calories and stores more fat. In addition, women begin to experience a host of non specific symptoms, including tiredness, anxiety and hair loss.
Fortunately, increasing your intake of selenium can heal your thyroid and speed weight loss. Research shows that supplementation can reduce early markers of thyroid dysfunction by as much as 50 percent, while a controlled study found that supplementing with selenium improved thyroid function 43 percent more than a placebo — and subjects lost 90 percent more midsection fat as well.
In a separate 2016 study, researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada found that each 1-mcg. increase in dietary selenium intake corresponded to a 6 percent decrease in body fat. “I’m someone who’s very reluctant to use big glowing terms about supplements,” says Yale-trained physician Aviva Romm, MD, “but I will say, in my practice, I have been incredibly impressed by the results.”
Best of all, you don’t have to forgo holiday favorites to get results! Selenium works by protecting, supporting and healing the thyroid to naturally boost metabolism — so you’ll see results without depriving yourself or cutting back on calories. And because levels can be restored with simple supplementation or by adding a few daily servings of selenium-rich foods, you don’t have to drastically change your diet.
The benefits go beyond struggle-free slimming. Dr. Romm’s patients report fewer joint aches, as well as improvements in mood, sleep, and GI function with regular supplementation. And in a survey of more than 2,000 adults with slow thyroids, Wentz found that 63 percent experienced an improvement in mood and energy after supplementing with selenium. “My clients typically report that they no longer have panic attacks, they have fewer heart palpitations and they lose less hair,” says Wentz, who saw her own frequent panic attacks vanish after taking selenium.
“Most women see symptoms start to improve within five days,” adds Wentz. Take 57-year-old Linda Fordham, who noticed an immediate energy boost and eventually lost 185 pounds, “I learned to make food my medicine,” she raves. “Now I look as good as I feel — I’ve battled my weight for 35 years, and I have people telling me that I look younger than I did 25 years ago!” Read on to help you look and feel your best this holiday season!
How to Increase Selenium Levels
Optimizing selenium levels can heal a slow thyroid to help you slim quickly — and it provides a host of other health benefits, including reduced cholesterol and anxiety, as well as supercharged energy. But when it comes to selenium, there’s an ideal range — and most women simply aren’t getting enough.
The average American woman gets 108 mcg. of selenium daily, but woman’s health expert Aviva Romm, M.D., author of The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution ($13.29, Amazon), says women need 200 mcg. of selenium per day to experience the benefits. “There’s a difference between getting enough of a nutrient to maintain health and using it to reverse a problem,” explains Dr. Romm. “In that case, you sometimes need a higher dose.”
But that doesn’t mean more is better: “Selenium has a narrow therapeutic index,” explains Wentz. “Doses under 100 mcg. per day may not improve symptoms, while doses in excess of 800 mcg. can be toxic.” You can sidestep symptoms like nausea and skin irritation by keeping your total daily intake of selenium from food and supplements under 400 mcg. per day.
Fill up on these foods.
Brazil nuts are the world’s most selenium-dense food — but the amount of selenium in these crunchers can vary wildly based on where they were grown. Indeed, while the average nut contains 96 mcg. of selenium, the USDA reports that they can contain as much as 192 mcg. per nut — so you could get more than the safe upper limit of 400 mcg. from just three nuts.
That’s why Dr. Romm suggests thinking of Brazil nuts as a “sometimes” food, rather than a supplement. “If you like Brazil nuts, eat them occasionally — but don’t treat them as a daily supplement because you could technically overdose on selenium.” In fact, if you take a selenium supplement, she suggests skipping your dose on days when you enjoy Brazil nuts.
While it’s difficult to get the therapeutic dose of 200 mcg. of selenium from food without Brazil nuts, you can give your thyroid a helping hand by incorporating other selenium-rich foods into your daily diet. Your best bets are saltwater fish and shellfish, like shrimp, salmon, cod, tuna, and flounder (92 mcg. per 3 oz.); whole grains, like brown rice, barley, and oats (70 mcg. per cup); beef, pork, and lamb (40 mcg. per 3 oz.); button, cremini and shiitake mushrooms (31 mcg. per 1/2 cup); chicken (27 mcg. per 3 oz.); eggs (20 mcg. each) and nuts and seeds (17 mcg. per tablespoon).
There are many selenium supplements on the market, but according to research from the National Institutes of Health, the body is only able to absorb about 50 percent of synthetic forms of the mineral like sodium selenite and sodium selenate. That’s why Dr. Romm suggests choosing an option that contains selenomethionine, an organic form of selenium that’s more readily absorbed.
Also consider looking for selenium paired with vitamin E — the nutrients work in tandem, increasing their effectiveness, explains Wentz.
A top-rated brand that meets all of the expert suggestions: Life Extension Super Selenium Complex 200 meg. ($10.50, LifeExtension.com).
For best results, take your supplement on an empty stomach. “Foods can interact with the absorption of selenium,” says Wentz. “In my experience, the clients who took a selenium supplement on an empty stomach experienced more symptomatic improvements.”
Always check with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement, and if you start to notice a metallic taste in your mouth (which is the earliest sign of selenium toxicity), discontinue your supplement immediately and speak with a healthcare provider.
Delicious Selenium-Boosting Meals
Oatmeal — Serve 1/2 cup of cooked old-fashioned rolled oatmeal topped with 1/4 cup of defrosted frozen berries and 1/2 Tbs. of toasted almonds.
Grain bowl — Toss 1/2 cup of cooked quinoa with 1 Tbs. of diced red peppers. Top with 1 sliced avocado, 1/2 cup of pickled beets and 1 cup of baby spinach.
Steak dinner — Broil 3 oz. of bottom-round steak to desired doneness. Serve alongside 3/4 cup of buttered baby carrots and a side spinach salad.
Apple cobbler — Combine 1 diced apple, 2 Tbs. of oats, 1/2 Tbs. of walnuts and 1 Tbs. of brown sugar. Bake for 30 min. at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Top with vanilla ice cream.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.