Selenium is an antioxidant mineral that is sometimes recommended for people with MS. The rationale behind these recommendations is not entirely clear. It may be because selenium is an antioxidant or it may be due to research suggesting that people with MS have low selenium levels. The safety and effectiveness of selenium supplements are unclear.
Antioxidants, in general, may be beneficial for people with MS, but they are also known to activate the immune system. It is possible for immune system activation to worsen MS. One study of selenium in EAE, an animal model of MS, found that low and normal selenium diets had no effect on the disease course, whereas high levels increased the severity of the disease and increased the death rate. This research suggests possible serious adverse reactions to selenium supplements.
No large-scale studies have been conducted to definitively determine the effects of selenium on MS. Whether selenium supplements are harmful, beneficial, or neither remains unclear, and therefore people with MS may want to avoid these supplements until further data become available.
If selenium supplements are taken, low doses of 20 to 55mg daily may be most reasonable. High doses (400mg or more daily) have been associated with serious adverse reactions such as nausea, dizziness, fatigue, tooth decay, hair loss, and many other problems. High doses may also activate the immune system. Selenium can be found at reasonable levels in whole grains, meat, and seafood.
References and Additional Reading
Bowling AC. Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis. New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2007.
Bowling AC, Stewart TS. Dietary Supplements and Multiple Sclerosis: A Health Professional’s Guide. New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2004.
Jellin JM, Batz F, Hitchens K, et al. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Stockton, CA: Therapeutic Research Faculty, 2009.
Ulbricht CE, Basch EM, eds. Natural Standard Herb and Supplement Reference: Evidence-Based Clinical Reviews. St. Louis: Elsevier-Mosby, 2005.