Signs and Symptoms of Selenium Toxicity

Like many substances found in the human body, selenium is essential to all living cells as it plays an important role in the production of certain enzymes. In fact, these enzymes are in part responsible for the production of antioxidants, which are known to prevent cancer. However, selenium is also very toxic and if presented in the body in larger quantities than the trace amounts that are normal, complications could develop.

Even though selenium is a necessary component of the body, it can be dangerous in high levels. A possible cause of selenium toxicity is the eating of plants grown in soil that is extremely selenium rich. Studies of humans with this condition have not been extensive, however the effects on horses have been seen for hundreds of years in the way the hooves of such horses would begin to slough off. Selenium toxicity is most often found in countries such as China wherein the soil is extremely rich in selenium and the mineral has made its way into the food and water supplies.

Selenium toxicity reacts much differently in humans with a few similarities. Symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Hair loss
  • Sloughing off of nails
  • Garlic breath
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Neurological problems
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Death

As you can see, selenium toxicity can be very serious, especially in cases where the levels of the substance found in a person’s body are extremely high.

Another possible cause of selenium toxicity is an overdose if a person is being treated for a condition wherein the medication contains the substance.

While selenium toxicity can be treated, it is very important that it be caught in its earlier stages. When you begin to have chronic diarrhea or nausea is when you should visit the doctor. Waiting until your nails begin to change and your breath smells of garlic is extremely dangerous and could mean you have experienced irreversible damage. While you can be treated at this stage, if neurological damage has occurred, you may have to suffer with this for the rest of your life.

It is a much wiser idea to prevent selenium toxicity from ever occurring than trying to treat it after damage has already been done. This after the fact sort of attitude we have toward healthcare is not very effective. The best way to treat a condition or disease is to prevent it from occurring to the best of your ability.

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11 comments to Signs and Symptoms of Selenium Toxicity

  • Laura Diane Colby

    I am quite ill with selenosis.
    I was found I have outrageously high urine selenium levels – and even my doctor doesn’t know what to do…although he is consulting with a toxicologist….
    I don’t eat any strange foods – in fact, I rarely eat meat or nuts (which I know have higher concentrations of selenium)…I don’t take supplements other than a multi-vitamin a few times a week – which I stopped weeks ago (and it had a minimal amount of selenium)…I am not exposed to any strange gases and I drink only bottled water…
    I have all the selenosis symptoms and am feeling weaker by the day. The metal taste in my mouth is awful and I always have garlic breath. I am losing my hair as well and have awful GI distress. Most concerning is the multiple neurological symptoms (including extra pyramidal movements and memory issues) which have forced me to stop working…….
    Since most of these cases can be traced back to a culprit source – – – it seems resolve is usually, easily found, especially with animals – but that is not the case with me…..
    Can you help and/or point me in the direction of a specialist who might shed light on this concerning situation?
    I would be grateful….
    Laura Colby

  • Miroslav

    I got some mild form of selenosis eating Brazilian nuts, I want to tell people to be very careful with the amount of Brazilian nuts they eat. I had breathing problems, fatigue, mood swings, irritability, depression…. Thankfully since I stopped eating Brazilian nuts all those problems disappeared very quickly. Just to stress I was not eating very much Brazilian nuts, maybe 5-6 per day.

  • […] toxic. The most pertinent example is the mineral selenium. Doses approaching 1 mg (910 mcg) or more can be toxic and too much (probably over 2,000 mg) can be fatal. (Aside: While it may not be a proven remedy, I […]

  • Laura

    Very sorry to hear about your problem. Have you had your vitamin B6 level tested?

  • Sandy Ohlgren

    Laura: I am wondering if you have received any help or answers to your question. I have lived with excess selenium for many years. I recently had my level tested, and the results came back in the great level and much, much above what a normal amount would be.

    I have found the doctors over the years to be somewhat baffled by this and anxious to blame my symptoms on things that seem to be unrelated. In doing research on the internet, I have come to the conclusion that the best and maybe only solution is to modify your diet greatly. I would be anxious to hear how you are doing.

  • David

    I do not know if I had selenosis but ever since I started using Selsun Blue I have been very irritated. When I urinated it had a sulfur type smell. I was worried and went to my doctor thinking it was a urinary tract infection. He did not find anything. For a couple weeks the strange smells and fatique continued. Then I realized this all started when I switched to Selsun Blue recently. I stopped using this shampoo and all side effects have subsided. Very odd. Perhaps I am allergic to selenium sulfide or it somehow reacts to the medication I am taking (wellbutrin)? Anyway I am thankful that the symptoms are gone before things may have become worse. Has anyone heard of these types of symptoms?

  • rita

    I was using selsun blue for tinea vesicolor. I was using it 3 to 4 times a week on my hair and body in the shower for about a month. I had noticed my throat was swelling and I had a horrible pain that felt like an ear or toothache. I also noticed I was losing a larger amount of hair than usual when I showered. I eventually lost a softball size amount of hair. It has been a year since I have used it and my hair has started growing back in this area, but for months it was hard to cover this spot from showing. It was very embarassing and stressful. Their should be some kind of warning about the the toxicity of this product on the bottle.

  • Joleen

    I was diagnosed with selenium toxicity this morning. Over the past year my doctor and I have tried many different tests trying to figure out where all my symptoms were coming from. Other than the bad garlic breath which I never got, I have the rest: fatigue, compromised GI track which led to over 50 food allergies, hair loss, skin rashes, nausea, tiredness, irritability, white blotchy nails, and mild nerve damage. I learned from my doctor that too much selenium in your body blocks your body from adsorbing and utilizing iron. I have been anemic for 2 years and my body rejected all iron I tried to put in it over that period of time. Low iron and bad anemia causes heart palpitations, anxiety, trouble breathing, and makes it hard for your muscles to work well. I’ve had all those problems too pretty badly. My doctor told me that if you remove your exposure to selenium, the toxicity and symptoms go away. Selenium can be found in water (even if you shower in it, it will still cause problems), possible construction sites, as well as food, etc. There is also some liver support medicine that can be taken to help your body get rid of the toxins but the problem won’t go away without discontinuing the exposure to selenium.

    Has anyone found other things than food that have selenium in them? I am trying to figure out where my exposure to them is coming from.

  • Corine

    I was diagnosed with idiopathic peripheral neuropathy 4 years ago. I have numbness in both feet and finger tips. All my blood tests are within normal range except for the selenium level which was 245 ug/l. and vitamin B6 which was slightly elevated. Normal level of selenium is between 50 and 150. I have no other symptom but the numbness is driving me crazy.
    I did not know that selenium could cause neuropathy. I am truly happy I have found this website.

  • Sue

    I have a terrible rash on my face. Thought of the popular skin ailments. Now I am sure it is selinium I am taking with zinc for thyroid disorder. Also my urine has a metallic odor. Often certain smells will develop for no reason and then dissipate. If any of you need more info on where ths mineral is
    prevent look to the CDC website under selinium toxicity.

  • Alison

    I developed an awful metallic taste in my mouth a week ago, and started researching. Selenium was the first thing that popped up but i disbursed it as i haven’t changed my diet. I looked at the vitamins i was taking, no problem there. I drink filtered water…that isn’t the culprit. Finally i remembered that i had started using Selsun Blue, only 2 times so far! And besides the metallic taste i had some other weird symptoms that i hadn’t linked till i read about selenosis. So will stop using that and hopefully life will get back to normal soon.