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Can Taking Selenium Help To Reverse Thyroid Eye Disease?

Thyroid eye disease, which is also known as Graves’ ophthalmopathy, affects approximately 50% of those people with Graves’ Disease.  And while in most cases the condition isn’t severe, this isn’t always the case.  Common symptoms include eye swelling, eye bulging (exophthalmos), and sometimes even blurriness and double vision.  While steroids such as prednisone are commonly given to help with the inflammation, certain natural approaches can also benefit the patient, without them having the side effects of steroid medications.  Research shows that selenium can be very effective in helping with thyroid eye disease, which I’ll discuss in this post.

But why is selenium so effective in helping with thyroid eye disease?  In order to better understand why selenium can help it probably is a good idea to briefly talk about the pathophysiology of thyroid eye disease.  Research clearly shows that Graves’ ophthalmopathy isn’t due to the hyperthyroidism associated with Graves’ Disease, but instead is due to the autoimmune response (1).  The same autoimmune response involved in Graves’ Disease is also responsible for damaging the tissues of the eyes.  Some of the more common symptoms include a dry and gritty ocular sensation, sensitive to light, excessive tearing, double vision, and a pressure sensation behind the eyes (2). The most common clinical features of Graves’ ophthalmopathy are upper eyelid retraction, edema, and erythema of the periorbital tissues and conjunctivae, and bulging of the eyes (2).

Just to summarize, in Graves’ Disease it is the immune system which attacks the TSH receptors, which in turn leads to the excess production of thyroid hormone.  And in Graves’ ophthalmopathy the immune system also causes damage to the tissues of the eyes, which in turn cause the signs and symptoms associated with Graves’ Disease.  And so the obvious goal should be to modulate the immune system and decrease the TSH receptor antibodies.  Glucocorticoids are commonly prescribed by medical doctors to help reduce the inflammation associated with thyroid eye disease, as well as suppress the immune system, which in turn can lower the TSH receptor antibodies (3).  But there are negative health consequences of steroids, such as glucose intolerance, gastritis, hypertension, hepatitis, and depression (3).

How Can Selenium Specifically Help With Thyroid Eye Disease?

Although the focus of this post is on thyroid eye disease, selenium has been shown to be effective in the prevention and/or treatment of many other conditions including cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, hypothyroidism, stroke, atherosclerosis, cancer susceptibility and treatment, HIV, AIDS, neuronal diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, pancreatitis, depression, and diabetes (4).  Selenium might even be able to decrease the progression of thyroid cancer (5) (6).  But how can one mineral have such a dramatic impact on these conditions?  Well, selenium has numerous functions, as it is a powerful antioxidant which in turn can help to reduce oxidative stress, it is involved in modulating the immune system, it is an enzymatic cofactor, and it is also involved in gene expression.  So it is very likely that a deficiency of this mineral will make someone more susceptible to developing other chronic health conditions.

As for how selenium can specifically help with thyroid eye disease, although the exact mechanism isn’t known, an increase in oxidative stress has been observed in both acute and chronic phases of thyroid disease with raised tissue concentrations of reactive oxygen species (7).  Selenium is important for the formation of selenoproteins.  These selenoproteins are powerful antioxidants and help to neutralize the effects of oxidative stress by reducing these free radicals (8).  Glutathione peroxidase and thioredoxin reductase are the two main seleno-enzyme systems which are responsible for the reduction of free radicals (7) (9).  These free radicals lead to an increase in proinflammatory cytokines, which as I have discussed in past articles and blog posts, are associated with autoimmune conditions (10).  So essentially what happens is that if someone has a selenium deficiency, this will result in a decrease in selenoproteins, and this in turn will result in the accumulation of hydrogen peroxide, which will cause tissue inflammation (11).  In addition, a deficiency of these selenoproteins can cause dysregulation of the immune system (12).  All of this can lead to tissue injury.

Remember that it’s the immune system attacking the TSH receptors which is responsible not only for the hyperthyroid symptoms of Graves’ Disease, but the immune system also attacks the fibroblasts of the orbit, which results in the symptoms associated with thyroid eye disease.  The TSH receptor antibodies are secreted by activated B cells due to immune system dysregulation.  But a sufficient amount of selenium can help to regulate the immune system, as it can help restore both innate and humoral immune functions (13) (14).

How Much Selenium Should You Take?

As for the dosage of selenium, it depends on the individual.  A typical dosage to help with these conditions is 200 mcg/day, as this frequently is sufficient enough to result in a therapeutic effect without causing a selenium toxicity.  Some people don’t respond unless if higher doses of selenium are taken (i.e. 400 mcg/day).  However, too much selenium can be toxic, and so you do want to be cautious.  Although you can try to get enough selenium through eating selenium-rich foods such as Brazil nuts, it might be best to take a selenium supplement.  The reason for this is because the dosage of selenium will vary in the food depend on the source.  For example, a Brazil nut that wasn’t grown in selenium-rich soil will of course have a lower amount of selenium than a Brazil nut that was grown in selenium-rich soil.

It also is a good idea to do other things to modulate the immune system, and not just rely on taking selenium.  Other nutrients which can decrease oxidative stress and suppress the autoimmune response include curcumin, resveratrol, fish oils, green tea, and vitamin D.  While taking supplements can help, in order to reverse thyroid eye disease one of course will need to remove the autoimmune trigger that is responsible for the elevated TSH receptor antibodies.

In summary, thyroid eye disease is common in Graves’ Disease, and this condition involves the immune system attacking the tissues of the eyes.  Selenium is a powerful antioxidant which reduces oxidative stress and can modulate the immune system, and it’s an important cofactor for glutathione production.  Essentially what selenium is doing is helping to regulate the immune system, which will decrease the damage caused to the tissues of the eyes.  Keep in mind that other nutrients can also help with this process, and it’s also essential to remove the autoimmune trigger.


 

10 Comments

  1. DeAnna says:

    After reading the article and speaking with my Endo, who is clueless, how do you determine your autoimmune trigger?
    I have completely changed my diet to gluten-free, non-GMO and organic. Take my Whole Foods derived vitamins, herbal supplements and essential oils daily. I would like to treat my graves and hyperthyroidism naturally but without a lot of money and not having any holistic doctors in my area I feel a bit lost. Any help with the determining the trigger would be greatly appreciated.

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi DeAnna,

      If the trigger is a food allergen then doing an elimination diet can help to determine the trigger. But if you have other imbalances such as weak adrenals/HPA axis dysregulation, a leaky gut, an infection, etc., then further testing is usually necessary. If you don’t have a lot of money then you can continue eating a healthy diet, improve your stress handling skills, if you have a leaky gut eating fermented foods and bone broth can help, etc. Even if you can’t afford continuous visits with a holistic doctor it might be worth going through one or two consultations so that they can help you identify the cause of your condition. Even though there isn’t a local natural healthcare professional you can always do a remote consultation with someone.

  2. Susan Heider says:

    I can tell you that for me, taking selenium definitely helped. Before I was even diagnosed with Graves, I could feel my left eye protruding even though most people couldn’t tell by looking. I could tell by feel and I was greatly concerned. It took a while to get in to see the VA eye doctor after my Graves diagnosis and in the meantime I restarted taking the selenium I had taken in the past. Because of a SNP (flaw) in part of my DNA, I need more selenium than the average person. Even so, I stay at less than 400mcg, the max safe dosage according to what I’ve read. I take 200mcg twice a day, with my morning and evening pills. In the couple of weeks I was taking selenium before seeing the eye doctor, my left eye started going back in the eye socket where it belonged. The eye doctor could detect only a small difference in the eye that was pushing out. I continue to take selenium as part of my Graves Disease protocol. For me, it has helped immensely with my Graves Eye Disease.

  3. Ginger Chouchou says:

    Thank you for this article. Like Ms. Heider, I’ve been using selenium supplements for my GED and it helps. I take 200 mcg twice daily as well. Sometimes I get too busy and forget to take them; after four or five days, my eyes are super swollen and people notice. I didn’t know about the other vitamins recommended – curcumin & resveratrol. Fish does help as well, it seems to keep the hair softer and eyes don’t dry out too often. I can definitely tell these two vitamins work on my eyes and would recommend them.

  4. Diane says:

    Hi, I’ve just started Selenuim yesterday after seeing my eye Doctor. I had RAI for Graves on 14.3.2016. I’m praying my eyes don’t get worse, I only have mild eye issues, but did get referred straight away to an eye specialist by my Endo. I also have Coeliacs disease and Pernicious Anemia. So a things going on. I’ve also been told that I have vitamin d deficiency? Could you recommend a really good all round vitamin with high concentrates of vitamin d at all?

    Any advise would be greatly received.

    Kind regards

  5. Narcis says:

    I suffer from eye disease. It began 3 years ago. Although it is not so severe but as I am a girl and the appearance is important for me, it has become the main problem of my whole life and every day I pray and ask God to help me. I read about Selenium now and I decided to buy it and start to try it 200mcg/day. I hope it helps me and bulging will be better. Thank you very much Dr.Eric

  6. Lee says:

    Hello,

    I too am a young lady that suffers from Thyroid Eye Disease. It seems like it’s the only thing I see when I look in the mirror, my eyes. I too came across this article and hopes that Selenium supplements will help. I will keep you in my prayers. I know how you feel!

    • Samantha says:

      Hi. I’m just wondering if the supplements have started to work . I’m also was thinking about using them and have just been diagnosed with TED and one of my eye is protruding and makes me so sad to look in the mirror x

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Get Your Free Guide Entitled
“The 6 Steps On How To Reverse Graves' Disease & Hashimoto's Through Natural Methods”
You will also receive email
updates on any future webinars
on natural thyroid health.
 

"We respect your privacy"
 
Free Webinars on
Natural Thyroid Health


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Natural Treatment Methods:
Graves Disease Treatment
Hypothyroidism Treatment
Hyperthyroidism Treatment
Natural Thyroid treatment


Conventional Treatment
Methods:
Radioactive Iodine
Thyroid Hormone