What is Selenium’s Role in Diabetes?

June 07,2023 |
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Diabetes has been affecting people for centuries. Although it was only in the 2nd century AD when the term diabetes was coined, the condition is thought to have existed far earlier. As time has passed, new research has found several things that help with diabetes management. Several treatments have promising results from insulin, weight loss, new drugs, and discovering how minerals affect the body. Now, studies show there may also be a positive impact on selenium’s role in diabetes. Here, we’ll review some key information about diabetes, what to know about selenium, and how the two are related.


Important Information About Diabetes and How it Affects the Body 

Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects nearly 37 million people in the U.S. alone. Worldwide, it’s thought to affect close to 422 million. Although its prevalence makes it one of the most common chronic conditions, research is still trying to find a “cure.” Several treatment options are available, but individuals living with diabetes either don’t produce enough insulin on their own or cannot effectively use the insulin their body produces. Because of this, blood glucose levels aren’t regulated properly.

Although there are several types of diabetes, the two most prevalent are type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder that tends to occur in children or younger adults. The immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Insulin is therefore a necessary part of treatment for type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is characterized by insulin resistance. It’s a metabolic condition where the body’s cells gradually become less responsive to the effects of insulin over time. This causes glucose to slowly accumulate in the bloodstream, eventually leading to symptoms or complications. Type 2 diabetes is often associated with lifestyle factors, such as obesity, a diet high in ultra-processed foods, and a sedentary lifestyle. Individuals with type 2 diabetes may not need insulin immediately following their diagnosis, as it is possible to manage with lifestyle changes. However, oral medications or insulin may be prescribed if you cannot manage your blood sugar with healthy habits alone.

When properly managed, the effects of diabetes on your body are minimal. However, when left uncontrolled or poorly managed, diabetes can lead to a range of complications that affect various parts of the body. High blood glucose levels can damage blood vessels, resulting in cardiovascular problems such as heart disease, stroke, and peripheral artery disease. Diabetic neuropathy is another common complication of diabetes, which can cause numbness, tingling, and pain, particularly in the feet and hands. Additionally, diabetes can affect the eyes (diabetic retinopathy) and increase the risk of vision loss or blindness.

Although living with diabetes can seem scary, with the proper treatment and management, it is possible to reduce your risk of any of these serious complications. See your doctor regularly and always follow their treatment plans, but don’t be afraid to raise any questions or concerns regarding your long-term care.


What is Selenium and How is it Used in the Body?

Selenium is a trace mineral that helps many physiological processes in the body. It’s an essential component of different enzymes and proteins called selenoproteins. Selenoproteins’ primary roles are to help protect against cellular damage and infection, regulate thyroid hormones, make DNA, and more.

One of the primary functions of selenium in the body is its involvement as a cofactor for several antioxidant enzymes. Selenium is a key component of glutathione peroxidases and thioredoxin reductases, which help reduce oxidative stress by neutralizing harmful free radicals and peroxides. Selenium is also essential for maintaining a healthy immune system. It supports immune function by regulating the activity of immune cells and enhancing the response to infection and inflammation.

Additionally, selenium is involved in thyroid hormone metabolism. It contributes to the conversion of the inactive form of thyroid hormone into the active form, which is critical for proper thyroid function and metabolism regulation. Selenium also plays a role in DNA synthesis and repair and in the production and metabolism of certain hormones.


What is Selenium’s Role in Diabetes?

Selenium plays a complex role in diabetes, and its effects on the condition are still being studied. While selenium is an essential trace mineral involved in various physiological processes discussed above, its specific role in diabetes is not yet fully understood.

One aspect of interest is the potential impact of selenium on insulin secretion and action. One study demonstrated that adequate concentrations of selenium (about 80-120 µg/L) can help with insulin sensitivity and glucose regulation. However, when there is an excess of selenium (above 120 µg/L) in the body, it may cause insulin resistance and lead to the development of diabetes.

However, conflicting findings have emerged from various studies examining the relationship between selenium intake and diabetes risk. Some studies, like the one above, have shown that high selenium levels are associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance. In contrast, others have found no significant association or even suggested a protective effect of selenium against diabetes.

Due to these conflicting views, it’s important to be cautious when using selenium as a supplement. Always talk to your doctor, as various factors, including individual genetics, selenium intake levels, and the overall nutritional context may influence selenium’s effects on diabetes. The relationship between selenium and diabetes is complex and multifaceted, involving interactions with other nutrients and metabolic pathways. Therefore, further research is still needed to fully understand the relationship and the optimal selenium levels for metabolic health in individuals with type 2 diabetes.

In the meantime, rather than using supplements, consider adding some naturally selenium-rich foods to your diet. The dietary sources of selenium include seafood (such as fish, shrimp, and shellfish), Brazil nuts, meat, poultry, eggs, and grains. Adequate selenium intake is important to ensure proper physiological functioning, but it's worth noting that excessive selenium intake can be toxic and may lead to adverse health effects. Working with a registered dietician who specializes in diabetes management can help you find the right balance for your needs.


Other Effective Diabetes Management Techniques

Although selenium could be a promising treatment option in the future, once more research is done, proven diabetes management techniques remain to be the best option for longevity and health. Adopting a comprehensive approach to your health when living with diabetes should include the following:

  • Monitoring Blood Sugar Levels – regularly checking your blood glucose and A1C levels will help you understand how different foods, activities, and medications affect your blood sugar levels. This can help you adopt a better treatment plan that relies less on medications and more on healthy lifestyle choices.


  • Eating a Healthy Diet – a healthy diet is one of the best ways to manage your diabetes over time. Eat whole, nutritious foods that include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. While you can have some treats, try to do so in moderation and always check your blood sugar before and after.


  • Getting Enough Physical Activityexercise is a great way to naturally improve your insulin sensitivity, keep off extra weight, and control your blood sugar levels. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity each week.


  • Taking Medication as Directed – if your doctor has prescribed you any oral medications or insulin, always take it as directed. If you have any questions or concerns about your treatment, see your doctor as soon as possible.


While more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between selenium and diabetes, there is optimism. For now, it’s too early and too risky to depend on selenium supplements to try and improve insulin resistance. Instead, focus on eating selenium-rich foods and managing your diabetes through other proven techniques. To help, Byram Healthcare has a range of diabetes management tools. We also offer diabetes support and educational materials to give you everything you need for comprehensive care.