Learn about selenium and if it’s safe for Canadians

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About selenium

Selenium is found in the environment. It is a naturally occurring substance, found in the earth’s crust and in different minerals.
Selenium can also be found in common natural health products, such as:

  • anti-dandruff shampoos
  • multi-vitamin and mineral supplements

Selenium is in foods, such as: 

  • nuts
  • fish and seafood
  • cereal products, including:
    • flour
    • grains
    • breads
    • baked goods
  • organ and muscle meats, including:
    • liver
    • heart
  • some traditional Indigenous foods including marine mammals

Safety of selenium

Selenium is an essential nutrient for human health. Most Canadians get the selenium they need from eating a balanced diet, which includes cereal products.

We have assessed the potential risk of selenium to Canadians from both human-made and natural sources. This scientific evaluation is called a chemical risk assessment. It identifies environmental, health or safety concerns.

The chemical risk assessment indicates that:

  • consumption of some multi-vitamin/mineral supplements containing more than 200 micrograms/day of selenium may be a health risk
  • some members of northern communities have high levels of selenium in their blood, however, there is no evidence that eating traditional food rich in selenium causes harmful health effects
  • fish caught near mining operations may have higher selenium levels

Overexposure to selenium

Exposure to selenium in high levels may cause negative health effects, such as:

  • hair loss
  • muscle weaknesses
  • garlic odour in breath
  • reduced brain function
  • nail loss and deformities
  • stomach and intestinal disorders

Generally, Canadians who follow a balanced diet are not at risk of being exposed to too much selenium.

Ongoing protective measures

To protect Canadians from being exposed to too much selenium, we plan to:

  • keep regulations about selenium in:
    • food
    • drugs
    • cosmetics
    • pesticides
    • natural health products
    • surface and paint coatings 
  • lower the maximum daily dose of selenium allowed in natural health products, such as multi-vitamin/mineral supplements
  • keep regulations about the release of selenium to water from:
    • agriculture
    • wastewater
    • coal and metal mining
    • base metals smelting and refining
    • power generation industrial sectors
  • research and monitor selenium and act quickly if a product is a risk to consumers

Reduce your exposure to selenium

Canadians can make sure they’re not exposed to too much selenium by:

  • reading all product labels and safety precautions
  • only taking multi-vitamin/mineral supplements that have a Natural Product Number (NPN) on the label
  • taking multi-vitamin/mineral supplements that do not exceed more than 200 micrograms of selenium a day
  • disposing of products properly based on the label directions
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