I recently read an article in Whole Foods Magzine that selenium, a mineral found in the soil, that is a common supplement found in a natural food store alleviates Ebola symptoms in patients already inflicted with the disease and can potentially rid patients with Ebola of this (sometimes) fatal disease. This peaked my interest and I sought out more information.
As for a disclaimer, I am not a medical doctor nor have any medical background. With anything you do that concerns your health, you should always check with a physician or health care professional before making any decisions. Also, this article is not intended to bypass our health system regarding any treatment for Ebola. Again, consult a health care practitioner before doing anything.
First, what is selenium? “Selenium is a chemical element with symbol Se and atomic number 34. It is a nonmetal with properties that are intermediate between those of its periodic table column-adjacent chalcogen elements sulfur and tellurium. It rarely occurs in its elemental state in nature, or as pure ore compounds. Selenium (Greek σελήνη selene meaning “Moon”) was discovered in 1817 by Jöns Jacob Berzelius, who noted the similarity of the new element to the previously known tellurium (named for the Earth).
Selenium is found impurely in metal sulfide ores, copper where it partially replaces the sulfur. Commercially, selenium is produced as a byproduct in the refining of these ores, most often during production. Minerals that are pure selenide or selenate compounds are known, but are rare. The chief commercial uses for selenium today are in glassmaking and in pigments. Selenium is a semiconductor and is used in photocells. Uses in electronics, once important, have been mostly supplanted by silicon semiconductor devices. Selenium continues to be used in a few types of DC power surge protectors and one type of fluorescent quantum dot.
Selenium salts are toxic in large amounts, but trace amounts are necessary for cellular function in many organisms, including all animals and is an ingredient in many multi-vitamins and other dietary supplements, including infant formula. Selenium is a component of the antioxidant enzymes glutathione peroxidase and thioredoxin reductase (which indirectly reduce certain oxidized molecules in animals and some plants). It is also found in three deiodinase enzymes, which convert one thyroid hormone to another. Selenium requirements in plants differ by species, with some plants requiring relatively large amounts, and others apparently requiring none.” (Source: Wikipedia) The above picture is black, glassy amorphous (with thin layer of grey selenium). There is also a red amorphous selenium.
Selenium does have health benefits. Selenium has attracted a lot of attention because of its antioxidant properties. Antioxidants protect cells from damage. Selenium protects the body from free radical damage and heavy metal toxins. An anti-cancer substance and immune supplement, selenium works well with Vitamin E to prevent cholesterol build-up, protect against heart and degenerative disease and enhance skin elasticity. There is some evidence that selenium supplements may reduce the odds of prostate cancer. Selenium does not seem to affect the risk of colorectal or lung cancer. But beware: selenium also seems to increase the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer.
Food sources of selenium include bran, nutritional yeast, broccoli, cabbage, celery, corn, garlic, mushrooms, onions, wheat germ and whole grain. Very high does of selenium can be toxic, so be careful. A safe dose ranges between 50-250mcg. Among healthy people in the U.S., selenium deficiencies are uncommon. But some health conditions — such as HIV, Crohn’s disease, and others — are associated with low selenium levels. People who are fed intravenously are also at risk for low selenium. Doctors sometimes suggest that people with these conditions use selenium supplements.
Fairly new research demonstrates that naturally occurring proteins that contain selenium in human blood cells slow down multiplication of the AIDS virus, in some cases, at least ten fold. “During the spring of 1995 [the] Ebola virus created havoc in the African nation of Zaire. Researchers studying the Ebola virus found many similarities between it and the HIV virus. For example, like HIV, Ebola has the potential to create several proteins requiring selenium. However, in the case of Ebola, the selenium content appears much higher than in HIV. It could be as much as ten times higher.
According to Dr. E. W. Taylor, the Ebola virus behaves very much like HIV. When selenium levels in infected cells drop, Ebola reproduces and aggressively searches for cells with more selenium, spreading the infection throughout the body. The population of Zaire was found to be deficient in selenium (may be because the soil in this country is deficient in selenium.) This may partially explain why both HIV virus and Ebola virus are rampant in Zaire. Normal immune defenses against the virus is handicapped by selenium deficiency.” (Hollisticonline.com)
So, it makes sense as to why there is a call for selenium from physicians treating Ebola patients in West Africa. Selenium is a powerful antioxidant and Ebola patients are deficient in selenium due to the disease. By replenishing selenium in an infected patient, it enhances their immunity and allows their body to better fight off the disease.
As the disease progresses, in the absence of supplemented selenium, an Ebola patient will become progressively more deficient, compromising immunity. Advancement of Ebola virus in the infected patient is likely to impose an unprecedented selenium demand on the host, potentially leading to severe lipid peroxidation and cell membrane destruction, and contributing to hemorrhagic fever. People who are infected with the virus are more likely to recover if they can maintain an adequate selenium level.
Chinese researchers have already explored the benefits of selenium supplements in Ebola patients. These researchers treated patients with an outbreak of viral hemorrhagic fever with an oral selenium supplement. These researchers obtained dramatic reductions in mortality: after 9 days of Se dosage, the death rate fell from 100% (untreated) to 37% (treated) in the very severe cases, and from 22% to zero in the less severe cases (Hou J-C 1997. Inhibitory effect of selenite and other antioxidants on complement-mediated tissue injury in patients with epidemic hemorrhagic fever. Biol Trace Elem Res 56: 125-130.)
So while a cure or vaccination for the Ebola virus seems far away. Selenium provides hope for patients inflicted and to potentially contain the pandemic. We all need to be smart and careful when dealing with anything medical, however selenium gives is hope.