Monday, October 02, 2006

Man dies of Selenium overdose

I am often told by supporters of natural medicine that "alternative" or "natural" treatments are safe, simply because they are natural. A reminder that tobacco is a natural herb and uranium a natural mineral is usually all that's needed to point out that natural and safe are not synonymous.

A report written up in the Medical Journal of Australia details the death of a 75 year old male who had a prostate cancer scare. An initial report showed elevated antigens for prostate cancer. Before further test could be completed to verify or exclude the presence of prostate cancer, the man used the internet to see what he could take.

The "natural" supplement he chose to help him with his (as yet unconfirmed) cancer was selenium. A google search for selenium and "prostate cancer" done while writing this blog found 454,000 matches. With that many hits it's easy to understand how he could have determined that selenium can assist with prostate cancer.

Our patient then purchased selenium supplements from 2 different pharmacies. (In Australia, most supplements are sold by the same people licensed to dispense prescription only medications) The National Institutes of Health's tolerable upper intake of selenium is 400 micrograms. Luckily, many supplements are very low in the active element, with glucose being used as a filler. The unlucky man in this case purchased sodium selenite, which is much higher purity at 96%.

After ingesting 10 grams, some 250,000 times greater than the tolerable limit suggested, the man became very ill. He took the selenium at 7:00 am, was in hospital by 10:30 am and despite the best efforts of the medical staff, was deceased by 1:00 pm.

There is growing evidence of a correlation between low selenium levels and prostate cancers. However, there still needs to be further research to confirm the nature of the link and then, if proven, determine what level of selenium is optimal. There also needs to be research to work out how the selenium works and what side effects, if any, may occur. This research is going on in places such as the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo NY and many universities.

It is also important to understand that a substance that may reduce the incidence of cancer will not automatically cure a cancer if taken in large quanitities. Rather than help, this case shows that large amounts of supplements can be deadly. This case shows clearly that natural does not mean safe and that more is not always better.

In all cases where your health is concerned, see your medically trained doctor. Don't try to self-medicate and don't fall for the dangerous belief that natural means effective or even safe. If you are unsure, get a second opinion from another medically trained doctor.

"There is only one truth. How we interpret that truth is called belief."
"The existence of belief does not indicate the presence of truth."


At Saturday, September 01, 2007 1:18:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...After ingesting 10 grams..."

This unfortunate fellow is a Darwin Award candidate. That's an outrageous amount.

At Thursday, July 10, 2008 1:56:00 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ld warn people not to eat too many Brazil nuts too. They can be high in selenium, the RDI being met in just two nuts. The upper limit of 400 micrograms could be met in a small handful.

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There also needs to be research to work out how the selenium works and what side effects,

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There is not well described that what is the limit that a man can have the Selenium?If it is expressed then it will be good for us to understand.

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The "natural" supplement he chose to help him with his (as yet unconfirmed) cancer was selenium.

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At Friday, September 12, 2014 6:05:00 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up on a farm, it is no surprise to me that farming depletes soil nutrients..and government pushed by big pharma wants to restrict supplements..what so we will have to live off drugs? Seems logical. One crazy old man took a crazy dosage and because of that we all should pay? As if the same thing couldn't have happened with a bottle of asprin.

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At Saturday, February 02, 2019 4:23:00 am, Blogger lionreb said...

Anyone who takes 250000 times the maximum dosage of any substance where a maximum has been determined should expect to be dead. The idea that this crazy instance is a warning to "the rest of us" about the use of supplements and the risks of self medicating is absolutely absurd. It is not just a lie. It is an idea put in with the intent to harm people with legitimate concerns and keep them from using their own good judgment. It is the same as "fake news" and it is immoral in addition to being irrational.


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