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Why do people take selenium?

  Selenium has attracted attention because of its antioxidant properties. Antioxidants protect cells from damage. Evidence that selenium supplements may reduce the odds of prostate cancer has been mixed, but most studies suggest there is no real benefit. Selenium does not seem to affect the risk of colorectal or lung cancer. But beware: selenium also seems to increase the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer.

  Among healthy people in the U.S., selenium deficiencies are uncommon. But some health conditions -- such as HIV, Crohn's disease, and others -- are associated with low selenium levels. People who are fed intravenously are also at risk for low selenium. Doctors sometimes suggest that people with these conditions use selenium supplements.

  Selenium has also been studied for the treatment of dozens of conditions. They range from asthma to arthritis to dandruff to infertility. However, the results have been inconclusive.