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Lower Diabetes Risk with Selenium

By on October 10, 2013

Grab a handful of Brazil nuts and read this!

If you are concerned about developing type 2 diabetes, a new study identified as much as 24% lower risk among people with a diet rich in selenium. Selenium is found in Brazil nuts, cod, tuna, egg noodles, oatmeal, and eggs. But as you can tell, too much of these foods could spike cholesterol.

The study results are published in the journal Diabetes Care and based on 7,000 male and female health care professionals followed for decades. But they add to a mixed bag of evidence on the protective effects of selenium, a known antioxidant, when it comes to diabetes. So you may not want to start on the supplements because there are several types of selenium, which may have different effects — and supplements contain only a single type.

Selenium is a mineral and is also found naturally in foods like bread, meat and nuts. In some places, it occurs in high concentrations in soil, affecting the direct exposure of people who live nearby and the selenium content of foods grown in the region (think Nebraska and North Dakota).

A little over 7,000 women and men participating in the long-term Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study had contributed the samples between 1982 and 1987 and answered extensive questionnaires about their diets, lifestyles and illnesses over the next two decades. A study of this size and duration is significant to making real life comparisons. No study participants had diabetes or heart disease at the beginning of the study but just over 10 percent developed type 2 diabetes in subsequent years.

codFor both men and women, the researchers found the risk of developing diabetes was 24 percent lower among people with the highest levels of selenium in their toenails, compared to those with the lowest levels. So this is really a vote for healthier eating and not-so-much for mineral supplements. The Institute of Medicine, an advisory panel to the U.S. government, recommends most adults get 55 micrograms of selenium each day, equivalent to two bagels.

Selenium toxicity is rare, but health officials suggest an upper limit of 400 micrograms per day for adults to avoid side effects. High levels of selenium in the blood can lead to a condition called selenosis, with symptoms including stomach problems, hair loss and mild nerve damage.

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