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The Cystic Fibrosis and Selenium Connection

The Cystic Fibrosis and Selenium Connection

In the United States, cystic fibrosis, a prevalent yet misunderstood disease, affects approximately 1 in 3,500 newborns.

While its prevalence is notably higher in individuals of European descent, it does not discriminate, impacting people from every ethnic background.

Cystic fibrosis is an autosomal recessive genetic disorder, a condition that necessitates the inheritance of two malfunctioning CFTR (cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator) genes for it to manifest, one from each parent.

Hence, individuals who possess only one faulty CFTR gene are merely carriers of the disease without experiencing any symptoms themselves.

This disorder chiefly targets the respiratory and digestive systems, instigated by mutations in the CFTR gene. Such mutations lead to an overproduction of dense and sticky mucus in various organs. The most severely affected by this condition are often the lungs and digestive tract.

Cystic Fibrosis and the Respiratory System

Lung health is significantly affected when dealing with cystic fibrosis. When an individual has cystic fibrosis, they carry a gene mutation leading to an overproduction of mucus characterized by an unusually dense and sticky nature.

This mucus tends to gather within the lung airways, causing a blockage that can seriously hamper breathing ability.

Concurrently, this kind of mucus in the lungs creates an almost nurturing environment for bacteria. Its thick consistency traps bacteria, which can result in frequent lung infections accompanied by chronic inflammation.

The recurring infections and the unyielding inflammation are an insidious combination that tends to compromise lung health over time. As cystic fibrosis progresses, it chips away at lung function, exacerbating breathing difficulty for the affected individual.

This progressive decline can potentially culminate in severe respiratory conditions, including respiratory failure.

Cystic Fibrosis and the Digestive System

The complications set by cystic fibrosis are not confined to the respiratory system but extend to the digestive system as well. The disorder's thick and viscous mucus isn't just isolated to the lungs but can also infiltrate and obstruct the pancreatic ducts, bringing about a cascade of potential health issues.

One of the crucial functions of the pancreas is releasing digestive enzymes, powerful proteins that expedite chemical reactions to break down food into absorbable substrates.

Cystic fibrosis, however, hampers this process significantly.

Among these enzymes are lipase, protease, and amylase. Lipase aids the breakdown of fats, protease assists in the digestion of proteins, whereas amylase simplifies carbohydrates into simple sugars.

Their impairment can result in the body's inability to properly digest and absorb essential nutrients from food. The inability to optimally break down and absorb food has profound repercussions, including malnutrition as the body can't derive the nutrients it requires from the intake.

In children, this nutrient deprivation can stymie growth and development, yielding adverse long-term consequences.

Cystic Fibrosis Organ and System Afflictions

Regrettably, the exploration into the effects of cystic fibrosis reveals that the disease extends its reach far beyond the lungs and the digestive system. It is a multisystem disorder, with the potential to affect several other body systems - from the liver to the sweat glands and reproductive organs.

Liverpool, for instance, is far from being immune to the potentially harmful manifestations caused by cystic fibrosis. The disorder can cause bile, a substance produced by the liver, to become thick and sticky, similar to what happens with mucus in the lungs.

This can lead to blockage of the bile ducts and ultimately provoke liver disease.

Similarly, the disease can also lead to complications involving the sinus and nasal regions. Faced with persistent inflammation and mucus buildup, individuals with cystic fibrosis are more susceptible to developing sinus problems, including chronic sinusitis, and nasal polyps - noncancerous growths in the nasal passages that can lead to breathing difficulties.

The disease's effect on the body also extends to the reproductive system, especially in males. Cystic fibrosis often leads to the congenital absence of the vas deferens, the tube that carries sperm from the testicles - a condition known as Congenital Bilateral Absence of the Vas Deferens (CBAVD).

Without this seminal conduit, sperm cannot be transported from their storage place in the testicles, resulting in infertility. 

What are the Symptoms of Cystic Fibrosis?

The clinical manifestations of cystic fibrosis can be diverse, with various symptoms that might appear common but, when persistent, warrant immediate medical attention. It's important to note that the signs and symptoms can vary, depending on the degree of severity, age of the patient, and the organ systems involved.

A significant symptom linked to cystic fibrosis is a persistent cough that is often accompanied by wheezing, suggesting respiratory distress. This chronic cough, often productive of thick mucus, is the body's attempt to clear the lungs' obstructed airways.

Frequent lung infections are another crucial factor to watch for, often caused by bacteria thriving in the thick, sticky mucus that lines the lungs. These repetitive infections can lead to chronic inflammation and further respiratory complications.

Another notable symptom is skin that tastes salty, caused by abnormal sweat gland function due to CFTR gene mutation. This increased saltiness often becomes noticeable when sweating or kissing the skin of a person with cystic fibrosis.

In the realm of growth and nutrition, you may notice poor growth or an inability to gain weight, particularly in children. Despite having a good appetite and consuming adequate nutrition, malabsorption caused by impaired digestive enzymes may prevent the body from properly utilizing the nutrients it receives, leading to growth failures and difficulty gaining weight.

Digestive issues are also commonly experienced in individuals with cystic fibrosis. These can manifest as diarrhea, characterized by frequent loose or watery stools, coupled with stools that are bulky, foul-smelling, and greasy.

These characteristic stools, referred to as steatorrhea, result from the excessive fat content in the feces, indicating the impaired digestion and absorption of fat by the body.

How to Diagnose Cystic Fibrosis?

Typically, the diagnostic procedure for cystic fibrosis begins in infancy. In the United States and several other countries, newborn screening programs are in place that can detect the condition soon after birth, allowing for immediate and effective intervention.

A cystic fibrosis diagnosis is usually confirmed through a two-tier testing approach, involving genetic testing and sweat chloride testing.

Genetic testing plays an early and crucial role. It involves examining the baby's DNA, usually obtained from a small blood sample, to identify if they carry any mutations in the CFTR gene.

This test forms the foundation of the newborn screening process for cystic fibrosis and can flag a high risk for the disease. If genetic testing indicates a risk of cystic fibrosis, the next step is usually a sweat chloride test. This test measures the amount of chloride in the person's sweat and is considered the gold standard for diagnosing cystic fibrosis.

A higher level of chloride than normal usually confirms the diagnosis of cystic fibrosis.

Conducting the test is relatively simple: a harmless medication is applied to the person's skin to make them sweat, and this sweat is collected onto a piece of filter paper or into a small coil.

The chloride level is then measured in a lab. This whole process is fundamental since catching cystic fibrosis at an early stage allows for timely treatment and early intervention. This can dramatically improve the patient's quality of life, slow disease progression, and potentially extend their lifespan.

What are the Treatment Options for Cystic Fibrosis?

Indeed, contemporary medicine does not yet offer a definitive cure for cystic fibrosis, at least at the level of completely reversing the underlying genetic defect.

However, in the past decades, advances in supportive care and the development of targeted therapies have significantly improved the management of this condition and the quality of life and survival of those with the disease.

The goal of treatment revolves around maintaining overall health, slowing disease progression, and managing symptoms. One core pillar of cystic fibrosis treatment is reinforcing your airways' clearance, keeping the lungs as free from mucus as possible.

This could be achieved by various techniques, such as chest physiotherapy or using devices that vibrate the chest, helping mobilize mucus for easier expectoration.

Treatment options also include pharmacological interventions. Medications like mucolytics can help thin the buildup of sticky and thick mucus in the lungs, facilitating its expulsion. Antibiotics often come under the treatment umbrella as well, to target and curb lung infections that are commonly associated with the disease. Nutrition is yet another area that requires targeted intervention.

Nutritional support becomes indispensable to counter malnutrition and poor growth, common complications caused by the pancreas's inability to secrete digestive enzymes efficiently. This might include high-calorie diets, vitamin supplementation, and pancreatic enzymes to assist with digestion and absorption.

In severe cases where lung disease progresses notwithstanding these measures, lung transplantation may provide a potential lifeline. Eligible patients for transplant are usually those with advanced lung disease who have exhausted all other treatment options.

It's vital to remember that treatment is most effective when tailored to the individual's unique needs, considering their age, disease severity, and specific symptomatology.

Leading a near normal and productive life with cystic fibrosis is increasingly possible with a well-coordinated, personalized treatment plan and team-based approach involving healthcare providers, patients, and families.

What is the connection between Selenium and Cystic Fibrosis?

In an effort to broaden our understanding of cystic fibrosis, we delved into the scientific literature, unearthing intriguing research that tentatively connects this genetic disorder with selenium deficiency.

One must first understand that selenium isn't just a mere element; it performs an enigmatic role in human physiology. This trace mineral is a crucial component of selenoproteins, where it exists in the form of the amino acid selenocysteine.

Notably, these selenoproteins participate in a variety of vital bodily processes. A key function of selenium lies in its role in battling oxidative stress. It serves as a vital component of the antioxidant enzyme, glutathione peroxidase, which shields our cells from oxidative harm.

This powerful enzyme neutralizes potentially harmful reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS), which, if left unchecked, can lead to cellular damage and inflammation.

Additionally, selenium also plays a critical role in modulating our immune responses. It's instrumental in bolstering the body's natural defenses against bacterial and viral infections—an indispensable player in our immune system's first line of defense.

The benefits of selenium stretch further, making a significant impact on our endocrine system—specifically, thyroid function. Selenium aids in the conversion of the inactive thyroid hormone, thyroxine (T4), to its active form, triiodothyronine (T3), a process critical for maintaining metabolic balance and overall thyroid health.

Furthermore, selenium has a hand in maintaining genetic stability—it's involved in DNA synthesis and repair processes, contributing to the preservation of genetic integrity. Additionally, it doesn't shy away from contributing to reproductive health.

The trace mineral is essential for men's reproductive health, aiding in maintaining the quality and motility of sperm. The intriguing correlations between cystic fibrosis and selenium deficiency shed light on the multifaceted nature of the disease.

It underscores the importance of scrutinizing and addressing potential nutritional inadequacies in managing this complex genetic condition.

Dietary Sources and the Need for Supplementation

Selenium is naturally available in many food sources. It features prominently in an array of items, from the humble nuts, notably Brazil nuts, which are considered one of the richest sources of this mineral, to the depth of the sea, where various seafood contains substantial selenium amounts. Organ meats too, such as liver and kidney, are noteworthy contributors of dietary selenium.

However, several factors might compromise the selenium content of these foods. Current agricultural practices have been linked to a reduction in the level of naturally occurring minerals, including selenium, in the soil where crops are grown. This depletion can trickle down and affect the selenium content in foods.

Furthermore, the presence of heavy metals in the environment and the soil can interfere with the absorption of essential minerals, including selenium—another factor leading to potential deficiencies.

Additionally, we live in an era characterized by an uptick in stress levels, both physical and mental. Chronic stress can exacerbate the body's nutrient requirements, including the need for antioxidants like selenium, to effectively combat and cope with increased oxidative stress.

Given these complexities, dietary intake alone might not suffice to meet the body's selenium needs for some individuals. In such cases, selenium supplementation could be necessary to ensure adequate intake and prevent deficiencies.

However, it's essential to bear in mind that supplements should be done under proper medical supervision, as too much selenium can also have harmful effects.

Striking the right balance is crucial, and a knowledgeable healthcare provider can guide you on the appropriate dosage, tailored to your unique needs and circumstances.

Studies on Selenium Deficiency and Cystic Fibrosis

The intersection of cystic fibrosis and selenium deficiency is a relatively uncharted territory within medical research. Nevertheless, a limited number of studies have ventured into this field, unfurling the possibility of a connective thread between the two.

One such intriguing piece of research proposed an association between selenium deficiency and cystic fibrosis. Researchers postulated that this mineral's deficiency could potentially have a contributory role or an exacerbating effect on the disease pathology.

Further extending this nascent research area, JD Wallach carried out a compelling investigation, titled Cystic Fibrosis: A proposal of etiology and pathogenesis. Wallach chose an animal model as his investigative playground, specifically targeting rhesus monkeys affected by deficiencies of selenium and zinc.

The findings of Wallach's study were thought-provoking. The rhesus monkey model exhibited phenotypes that resembled some of the characteristics of human cystic fibrosis, thereby suggesting a potential correlation.

Building upon these observations, Wallach hypothesized that similar deficiencies in humans, especially concerning selenium, vitamin E, and zinc, could have strong indirect links with cystic fibrosis.

These research endeavors are not only illuminating but offer fresh perspectives in understanding cystic fibrosis from a broader angle. While they don't confirm a direct cause-effect relationship between selenium deficiency and cystic fibrosis, they suggest an intriguing possibility that nutrient deficiencies could impact the disease's pathogenesis and progression.

Perhaps such insights could pave the way for future studies and novel interventions to manage and treat this complex disease better.

Selenium Deficiency and Keshan's Disease

Insufficient levels of selenium in the body can have far-reaching health implications. One of the most conspicuous manifestations of selenium deficiency is Keshan's disease, primarily characterized by cardiomyopathy—a condition wherein the heart muscle becomes inflamed and weakened.

This disease tends to disproportionately affect children and women. Interestingly, Keshan's disease presents distinct osteoarthritic symptoms and is sometimes colloquially referred to as the "big joint" disease, thanks to the distinctive swelling and calcium deposits that appear in the affected joints.

This pathology can have adverse developmental implications for children afflicted with the condition.

Severe selenium deficiency leading to Keshan’s disease is relatively rare and primarily observed in regions with extremely low selenium levels in soil, impacting the selenium content in the food supply. However, inadequate dietary intake isn't the sole cause of selenium deficiency; the body's mineral balance can profoundly influence its selenium status.

Certain minerals and heavy metals can interact with selenium in ways that impede its absorption or accelerate its excretion, effectively creating a state of selenium deficiency even with sufficient intake.

Some of the prominent elements that can disrupt selenium balance include silver, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, thallium, titanium, copper, and sulfate.

Understanding the intricacies of selenium deficiency doesn't just rest on assessing dietary selenium intake. Fostering a broader perspective that also includes potential interactions with other substances in the body can help optimize selenium status and, consequently, contribute to overall health and well-being.

What are the Symptoms of Selenium Deficiency?

In the intricate landscape of nutrition, selenium—a trace mineral with considerable impact—commands attention. Despite its requirement in only small amounts, it exerts a significant sway over our health.

However, when levels dip and the deficiency looms, the outcomes vary. 

Below are the symptoms of selenium Deficiency:

  • Weak immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections.
  • Fatigue and weakness.
  • Muscle pain and weakness.
  • Cognitive impairment.
  • Thyroid dysfunction due to the role of selenium in thyroid hormone metabolism.
  • Skin and hair problems.
  • Nail brittleness.
  • Reproductive and fertility issues.


In conclusion, cystic fibrosis is a prevalent genetic disorder primarily affecting the respiratory and digestive systems, with a potential impact on other organs and systems in the body.

While there is no cure, various treatments and therapies are available to manage the condition. Interestingly, recent studies have shown a correlation between selenium deficiency and cystic fibrosis, suggesting a possible link in the etiology and pathogenesis of this disorder.

Selenium, an essential mineral with multiple roles in the human body, may be acquired through diet and supplementation. Monitoring and addressing potential selenium deficiency through methods such as hair tissue mineral analysis (HTMA) could prove beneficial for individuals with cystic fibrosis, paving the way for a better understanding and management of this complex disorder.

Wondering if your selenium levels are up to par?

It's natural to be curious about your nutrient status, especially considering selenium's essential role in maintaining our health and well-being.

A proven and effective way to assess whether you might have a selenium deficiency is through a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA), which we encourage you to take if you're ready to take this pivotal step toward superior health. This non-invasive test provides a comprehensive snapshot of your mineral balance and can gauge the presence of any potential deficiencies, including selenium.

However, if you're already clued into the possibility of a selenium deficiency and ready to embrace supplementation, we've got you covered. Upgraded Selenium—a tailor-made supplement designed to effectively replenish your selenium stores and bring you back to your optimal health.

Check out Upgraded Selenium and take the first step towards rectifying your selenium deficiency today!


Barbara Madimenos
Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis Practitioner
Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner
Integrative Health Coach

Wallach JD: Cystic fibrosis: A proposal of etiology and pathogenesis. Quantum Med. 1.2: 1-48, 1988

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