Can Your Toenails Predict Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes?

selenium pre diabetes type 2 diet supplement and metabolic syndrome x treatmentSelenium is an important trace mineral. It should be included in adequate amounts in the best diet plan, especially for people with pre-diabetes metabolic syndrome, in order to avoid full type 2 diabetes and its many nasty complications, including foot ulcers that place patients at risk for amputation.

A “trace mineral” is a mineral that is required by your body in relatively small amounts. That does not mean it is not important. To the contrary, we require selenium for the function of many enzymes that keep our body humming right along.

Selenium is important for the development of the tough outer coating of the skin and nails, called keratin.  This is a protein made by special cells called keratinocytes. In light of this, researchers looked at the association between the amount of selenium found in the toenails of 3,630 women in the Nurses’ Health Study, and 3,535 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study to see if there was an association between the amount of toenail selenium and type 2 diabetes.

They found out that people with higher toenail selenium levels are at lower risk for type 2 diabetes. This implies that inadequate selenium may be a factor in the development of type 2 diabetes.

As a matter of fact, in people with a diet containing adequate selenium, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes was reduced by as much as 24%.

For both men and women, the researchers found the risk of developing diabetes was 24% lower among the health care workers if they were among the top 20% of toenail selenium content, compared to people who had the lowest 20% of selenium in their toenails.

Given that selenium is required in only small (“trace”) amounts, supplementation is not usually needed.  Some multivitamins will contain some trace elements, including selenium.

chicken meat type 2 diabetes diet plan supplement and exercise for metabolic syndrome x treatmentFoods with higher selenium content include fish, chicken and beef.  The regular readers of Nutrientology are especially interested in a diet that favors healthy blood sugar levels along with  healthy fats and cholesterol levels. They are therefore eating some meat protein (mostly fish and chicken with occasional red meat) and getting adequate selenium in their diet. If your diet contains meat products, your selenium level should be okay – More justification for the “Ancestral Diet” approach to eating.

The Institute of Medicine recommends adults get 55 mcg of selenium daily.

Although rare, there is such a thing as selenium toxicity. It is advised that adults not take in more than 400 mcg/day to avoid side effects from selenium build-up in the body.

High levels of selenium can lead to chronically high selenium levels known as selenosis with symptoms of stomach problems, hair loss and mild nerve damage.

Sounds kind of odd to me, but Brazil nuts in particular are especially high in selenium – more than 500 mcg of selenium per ounce!  Isn’t nature interesting? The Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institute of Health advises that one eat Brazil nuts only occasionally, and not too many at once.

brazil nuts low selenium pre type 2 diabetes risk

Brazil Nuts

The smart readers of Nutrientology understand that when it comes to nutrients and nutrition one can have “too much of a good thing.”  A healthy body exists in metabolic balance. The body has ways of managing excesses up to a point. Some nutrients have a bigger “metabolic margin of error” than others. In other words, the body has the ability to process a wider concentration of some nutrients, and a very narrow range of others, before disease can set in. I have posted about the excess intake of vitamin D and its possible negative effects on longevity.

In some places, selenium occurs in low concentrations in the soil, affecting the selenium content of foods grown in the region, and therefore the people who live in the area. China and Russia are known for having soils with low selenium content.

Selenium levels in the U.S. population as a whole are okay because of high selenium content of soils in some parts of the country, and the transport of food outside these areas to other parts of the U.S..

For more information on selenium, the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements has a good selenium fact sheet available.

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About Robert Creighton

Dr. Creighton is a podiatrist and foot surgeon with over 26 years in podiatric practice treating thousands of patients afflicted with the physiological, physical, and psychological side effects and complications of diabetes and pre-diabetes metabolic syndrome. He believes these disorders present a pressing public health concern that need to be more actively addressed in a multidisciplinary way. Dr. Creighton graduated from what is now the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine after receiving his undergraduate degree in Biology. He is certified by the American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery, a member of the American Public Health Association, an American College of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and a Member of the American Nutrition Association.

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2 Responses to Can Your Toenails Predict Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes?

  1. Carri November 3, 2013 at 2:51 PM #

    A high reading of selenium–or any other mineral–usually is indicative of heavy metals in the body, such as mercury, lead, aluminum, etc. Due to modern-day agricultural practices and the chemicals it uses, our food has become deficient in vital minerals. A shortage of necessary minerals forces the cells to take up the next available thing, which usually is heavy metal, which blocks the future uptake of necessary minerals.

  2. Robert Creighton November 6, 2013 at 6:29 PM #

    Can you provide a reference to cells taking in heavy metals essentially as a surrogate for other elements? Do you mean to indicate that selenium is being taken up in the toenail instead of another element? Thank you for your comment.

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