Treatment Guide

Understanding and Treating Selenium Deficiency in Celiac Disease

Selenium is a trace mineral required for good health. We should not be complacent about the small amount of this essential nutrient needed because not having enough of it has serious consequences.

Selenium is required for antioxidant protection, DNA repair, thyroid hormone activation, immune system enhancement, production of prostaglandins, muscle function and protection against cancer.

In the body, selenium is incorporated into proteins to make important antioxidant enzymes called selenoproteins. The antioxidant properties of selenoproteins help prevent cellular damage from free radicals.

Free radicals are natural by-products of oxygen metabolism that can damage just about any tissue, such as artery walls or skin cells. Some free radicals result as byproducts when our bodies metabolize nutrients. Others enter our bodies from the air we breathe and the food we eat. Free radicals may contribute to the development of chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Antioxidants protect us from free radical damage, scavenging them and reducing them to water and other harmless molecules. Other selenoproteins help regulate thyroid function and play a role in the immune system.

There is evidence that selenium acts as a component of the enzyme responsible for converting the thyroxin to triiodothyronine (T3); thus it is possible that the systemic utilization of iodine is impaired in people who are deficient in selenium (Arthur and Beckett, 1989; Arthur, Nicol and Beckett, 1990).

Thyroxin is one of the principal hormones secreted by the thyroid gland that increases the use of all food types for energy production and increases the rate of protein synthesis in most tissues. (Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary.)

Selenium plays a necessary role in muscle activity, promoting strength. In addition, this mineral is vitally necessary for production of prostaglandins (cell hormones) from omega-6 fatty acids. Prostaglandins are involved in many various activities. One is their rapid formation in response to injury, resulting in inflammation.


Absorption/ Excretion

Selenium is absorbed in the upper segment of the small intestine. It is excreted in the urine.


Deficiency Symptoms

In the general population, deficiency of selenium is considered rare despite a wide range of intake, yet it has an increased frequency in untreated celiac disease that results from malabsorption in the upper small intestine.

A study investigating selenium in whole blood, plasma, and white blood cells in patients with biopsy-confirmed celiac disease on gluten-free diet demonstrated significantly lower concentrations of selenium than controls.

A study investigating serum levels of free carnitine and selenium in children with celiac disease having type 3 duodenal lesions demonstrated that selenium and carnitine levels are decreased in children with celiac disease, with and without diarrhea.

In general, mild to moderate depletion make us feel run down because deficiency results in low energy and fatigue.

Other symptoms include:

· Muscle weakness, pain and tenderness
· Loss of vitality
· Hypertension
· Cardiomyopathy
· Thyroid disorders
· Lowered resistance to infections
· Elevated liver enzymes
· Predisposition to cancer


Food Sources of Selenium

The quantity of selenium in foods is directly dependent on selenium in the soil where plants grow and animals pasture. States lowest in selenium are: California, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, and Florida.

Unless otherwise indicated, following foods are in amount of 100 grams:

Food                              Micrograms (μg) of Selenium

Brazil nuts ¼ cup             380
Pork kidneys                   311.5
Lamb kidneys                  218.8
Beef kidneys                   168
Pacific oysters                154
Turkey giblets                 142
Snapper, baked 3 oz.      148
Lamb liver                       111
Halibut, baked 3 oz.        113
Chicken giblets               104
Mussels, blue                  89.6
Chicken liver                    82.2
Tuna, canned                   75.2
Salmon, baked 3 oz.        70
Scallops, cooked 3 oz.     70
Bacon, cooked                65
Liverwurst                        58
Pork liver                         55.7
Crimini mushrooms raw    26
Sunflower seeds, ¼ cup   25
Shitake mushrooms, ckd  24.8
Oyster mushrooms          18.4
Corn bran                       16.5
Rice bran                       15.6
Corn flour                       15.4
White rice flour               15.1


Recommended Dietary Allowances for Selenium

The adult RDA is 70 μg (micrograms) for adult males and 55 μg for adult females.
Children 1 to 10 years require 20 μg each day.
Boys 11 to 14 need 40 μg and those 15 to 18 need 50 μg.
Girls 11 to 14 need 45 μg, those 15 to 18 need 50 μg.
Pregnant women need 65 μg and lactating women need 75 μg.


Getting Your Daily Intake

· Make foods rich in selenium a part of your diet, especially if you feel weak, have low energy, and catch every bug that comes along.

· If you like seafood, eat oysters, clams, fish and shrimp! The richest animal source is kidney, then liver and dark turkey meat. A rich plant source is sunflower seeds, but nothing comes close to Brazil nuts.

· Enjoy these spices and herbs for flavoring: in descending order – mustard seed, ginger, garlic, chervil, coriander, parsley, curry, caraway, celery, dill, pumpkin spice, bay leaf, horseradish, mace, nutmeg, cinnamon, and basil.


Form in Dietary Supplements

Dietary supplements of selenium may be needed to correct a deficiency, but should not exceed 100% of RDA without blood monitoring.


Selenium Toxicity

Toxicity from supplements may easily develop. Symptoms include brittle hair and nails, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, liver disease, neurological abnormalities, and tooth decay.


Impact of Storage, Processing, and Cooking

Selenium is minimally affected by storage, processing or cooking.



Krause’s Food, Nutrition, and Diet Therapy, Mahon and Escott-Stump. 10th edition.


About Cleo Libonati, RN, BSN

Avatar photo
Cleo Libonati, RN, BSN is CEO and co-Founder of Gluten Free Works, Inc. and She is the author and publisher of the highly recommended celiac disease reference guide, Recognizing Celiac Disease.


  1. The adult RDA is 70 μg (micrograms) for adult males but the food list is listed in Milligrams so it’s confusing for me to convert these.
    Can you put the RDA in milligrams please?
    Good article!

  2. You’re welcome John.

    I went out to the store that rhymes with Wall—- to buy some Brazil nuts.
    I couldn’t find any. So I bought a bag of shelled sunflower seeds.
    They taste so good, I’ll have to be careful to eat a little at a time.

    Since I’m on my gluten free diet, I’m starving, yet I eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
    I think my body is in debt for nutrition.
    Hopefully the selenium will help my thyroid, which the doctors are clueless and clueless in nutrition.
    Your website is a valuable resource.

  3. We keep a pack of organic brazil nuts in the fridge just for this purpose! Great article!

  4. Ann M. Del Tredici, MS, RD, CDE

    Be careful with selenium. Even though it is essential in tiny amounts, it is also very toxic. Check existing supplements for it–many already have the upper limit of the “safe maximum allowed” –so people should not overdo it by eating high selenium foods.
    (Mark, 1000 mcg (micrograms) = 1 mg (milligram.)

  5. Another excuse to eat shiitake mushrooms? I’m in! :) Thanks for the information.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Check Also

True Story: Doctor Says “Don’t Eat Wheat Ever Again”

  This is a quote that a lot of people are hearing these days. What ...

How to Discover Seemingly Unrelated Symptoms Are Connected

Celiac Disease is sometimes referred to as having a cascading effect where symptoms beget symptoms ...

Brain Symptoms in Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity

There are 36 Brain Disorders Cause by Gluten Sensitivity and Celiac Disease listed in the ...