Brazil Nuts

Brazil nuts are among the most nutritional nuts due to their rich vitamin and mineral content. One brazil nut contains 120 mcg of selenium and is recommended by both Dr. Andrew Weil and Dr. Oz as a great source of the recommended 200 mcg daily dose. Selenium blocks chemical reactions that create free radicals in the body, which prevents tumor development and the risk for cancer and other diseases. In a study of 1,300 people given 200 mcg of selenium daily for 7 years, cancer incidence was reduced by 42% compared to placebo. Selenium has also been shown to reduce the progression of cancer and to reduce the toxicity of chemotherapy.

Selenium helps the body produce functional glutathione peroxidase, an enzyme essential for detoxification. Glutathione peroxidase is the primary enzyme that converts hydrogen peroxide to water, preventing lipid peroxidation. Glutathione peroxidase destroys hydroperoxides and lipoperoxides, free radicals that are primarily caused by ingesting fat, making selenium particularly useful in reducing incidence of cancers that are associated with high-fat, low-fiber diets such as breast, colon, and prostate cancers. Selenium’s protective role in chemotherapy patients is related to its ability to fight free radicals, since chemotherapy and radiation generate free radicals in the body as their mechanism to kill dividing cells.

In addition to disease, selenium can help counteract free radical damage to the skin from the sun, seen as pigmentation and dark spots. While inhibiting lipid or bile acid oxidation is a preventative role, selenium also act as an immune stimulant because it promotes macrophage-mediated tumor destruction and tumor death in animals. The mineral has been shown to help stimulate antibody formation in response to vaccines, which is also enhanced by vitamin E.

The second function of selenium is to protect against heavy metal toxicity. Selenium is known to interact with cadmium and mercury. While it does not increase elimination of the toxic metals, selenium appears to increase accumulation of the metals in some nontoxic form. The carcinogenic effects of these and perhaps other heavy metals could possibly be counteracted by selenium, in a manner similar to its protection against free radicals.

Dietary Source of Selenium
Brazil nuts, the unshelled variety grown in the central region of Brazil, are the best source of selenium as they also contain another anti-cancer substance known as ellagic acid. Other great sources include tuna fish, poultry, egg yolks, kidney, liver, seafood, wheat germ, and bran. Broccoli and garlic are both touted as anti-cancer vegetables and while they do contain selenium, their other components such as sulforaphane and I3C are also large anti-cancer contributors. Dark-meat turkey is particularly high in selenium (3 ounces of cooked turkey have 35mcg). Red clover is rich in calcium, manganese, and selenium. Pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc, selenium and other minerals that have been shown to reduce prostate cancer risk.
Fruits and vegetables that come from selenium-rich soil are more likely to contain the mineral. The selenium content in produce depends on the volcanic ash contained in the soil in which they were grown. Soil irrigated by seawater, such as much of the soil in California, contains higher levels of selenium. In general in the U.S., soil in the Western part of the country is higher in selenium than soil in the East.

How Much Do We Need
We need enough selenium to maintain good health, yet too much can be dangerous. It has been reported that a total dose of 250 – 300 mcg of daily selenium in the form of selenomethionine could be helpful in preventing cancer. Americans typically get 60-100 mcg of selenium daily from dietary sources so supplementation is becoming increasingly encouraged by health and wellness practitioners. We feel that it is realistic to target consumption of 125 – 150 mcg through dietary sources and an additional supplemental amount of 100 mcg daily is unlikely to produce any major side effects.

Selenium requirement increases under stress and certain people may benefit from a higher dose, including those suffering from diseases such as cancer, cataracts, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, liver necrosis, irondeficiency anemia, joint problems, and heavy metal poisoning. These patients may want to try a less toxic and more bioavailable form of selenium, Se-methylselenocysteine (known as “SMSC” or “SeMc”) at a dose of 200 – 400 mcg daily. SMSC is a selenoamino acid that is synthesized by plants such as garlic and broccoli. Selenium is a toxic mineral and patients with impaired metabolism should exercise caution. Signs of selenium toxicity include a heavy garlic odor, pallor, nervousness, depression, a metallic taste, skin eruptions, irritability, discolored teeth and hair loss.

As with many antioxidant effects, selenium works best in conjunction with other vitamins such as vitamin E, C, and beta-carotene. Combined with vitamin E, selenium works particularly well to protect tissues and cell membranes, aid in the production of antibodies, and help maintain a healthy heart and liver. We suggest a supplement of 100 I.U. of vitamin E (up to 200 I.U.), as the anticancer effects of selenium are greatly reduced when there is an insufficient intake of vitamin E. Scientists have confirmed that vitamins C, E and selenium aid in prostate cancer prevention. See our post on Vitamin C for recommended dosing. Avoid taking zinc in doses larger than 20 mg daily as it blocks the action of selenium.

Image Source: How Many Calories Should I Eat A Day?
Data Sources: Cancer And Natural Medicine by John Boik (Kiremidjian-Schumacher et al., 1992; Hocman, 1988; Willett and Stampfer, 1986; Milner, 1985) Ask Dr Weil by Andrew Weil MD Diet Nutrition Cancer by National Research Council Choices In Healing by Michael Lerner Cancer Therapy by Ralph W Moss Anti-Aging Prescriptions by James Duke PhD National Academy of Sciences, 1971 Disease Prevention And Treatment by Life Extension Foundation
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