By Dr. Mercola
Sensible sun exposure is an important component for optimal health, for a number of reasons. Vitamin D production is one, of course, but of equal importance is the production of cholesterol sulfate.
Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a senior research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is an expert on sulfate, and in my recent interview with her we discuss the various ways sunlight contributes to health.
The cholesterol produced in your skin in response to sun exposure is actually a substrate-forming vitamin D. Unfortunately, virtually no one, aside from Dr. Seneff, is talking about cholesterol sulfate.
"I identified it as an important molecule many years ago," she says. "Ever since then I've been combing the literature to learn everything I can about cholesterol sulfate...
Most people are just not paying attention to this molecule. Mostly what you'll see is, 'Oh, yeah, there's always cholesterol sulfate in the blood, and we don't know what it's for.'"
Cholesterol Sulfate May Be Essential for Health of All Cells
What is widely known is that red blood cells produce cholesterol sulfate and that this molecule protects the red blood cells from falling apart. If a red blood cell can’t produce enough cholesterol sulfate, it will spill its contents out into the blood (a condition called hemolysis).
In short, the red blood cells need the cholesterol sulfate to stay healthy and to function properly.
"It's a very elegant concept that they need sunlight to make sulfate," Dr. Seneff notes. "I came upon this as an idea when thinking about the skin. The skin makes a huge amount of cholesterol sulfate. It's the main producer.
Your skin is exposed to sunlight and produces [both cholesterol sulfate and] vitamin D sulfate at the same time. The vitamin D that's produced in the skin is transported in the sulfated form....
When you sulfate the cholesterol, you turn it into a water-soluble and a fat-soluble molecule. It can get just about anywhere on its own. It doesn't have to be packaged up inside a low-density lipoprotein (LDL) particle, for example.
The LDL particles have a high association with heart disease, and they're giving everybody a statin drug to try to knock it down, which is a very bad idea.
The cholesterol sulfate serves the really important role of distributing both cholesterol and sulfate to all tissues. I think that's one of the really important things that it does. It's incredibly important because the cholesterol and the sulfate are absolutely essential to the well-being of all the cells."
Sulfate Appears to Play an Important Regulatory Role in Your Blood
The molecule in your red blood cells which Dr. Seneff believes is responsible for making cholesterol sulfate is called endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS), which has been very well studied.
There are thousands of papers on eNOS, and the general understanding is that it makes nitric oxide (NO). It also makes superoxide, which is considered to be pathogenic.
However, according to Dr. Seneff, this may be an erroneous conclusion, because superoxide is actually needed to oxidize sulfur to make sulfate. Again, while these molecules are complex, and we still do not completely understand how they work, it's clear that sulfate plays a very important role in your blood.
"For example, in the endothelial wall lining the blood vessels, sulfated sugar molecules control what gets in and what doesn't... A lot of important signaling molecules are attached to these sulfated sugar molecules before they go in, and then there's all this regulation that takes place.
When the artery wall is depleted in sulfate, it doesn't work properly. That's when you get cascades that end up producing things like cardiovascular plaque, because there's not enough sulfate in the artery wall. That's what causes the plaque to build," she explains.
Glyphosate Disrupts Vitamin D Activation and Sulfate Production
One therapeutic recommendation to reduce your cardiovascular health risks is to increase your sulfate, which is related to boosting your sulfur level. Sun exposure is one way. In terms of food sources, garlic is an excellent source of sulfur, perhaps one of the best.
Unfortunately, you may still have problems if you're eating processed foods because processed foods are loaded with glyphosate—the herbicide chemical used on most conventional and genetically engineered food crops.
According to Dr. Seneff, glyphosate is a major problem in our food supply because it interferes with a number of biological mechanisms, including enzymes responsible for activating vitamin D in your liver and kidneys. She explains:
"Glyphosate disrupts cytochrome p450 enzymes. There are lots of them in the liver [where they] activate vitamin D. We have a vitamin D deficiency epidemic right now. I think a lot of it might be due to the fact that it's not getting activated in the liver because of the disruption from the glyphosate."
The eNOS, which is responsible for making cholesterol sulfate,1 is also a cytochrome p450enzyme. Therefore, it too is disrupted by glyphosate. One of the first things that happen when you ingest excessive amounts of glyphosate is something called disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), which means that the red blood cells coagulate your blood.
The red blood cells fall apart from the exposure to glyphosate as a result of losing their cholesterol sulfate. All around the world, people are using glyphosate to commit suicide, as it's a very potent toxin.
"Small amounts don't cause anything that dramatic, but they interfere with the red blood cells' ability to supply cholesterol sulfate to your tissues, and your heart. I think heart failure is a direct consequence of insufficient cholesterol and insufficient sulfate delivery to the heart," Dr. Seneff says.
The eNOS Molecule Helps Regulate and Balance Your Blood
To clarify further, eNOS is a dual-purpose enzyme. When it's attached to the cell membrane, it makes sulfate. When it's detached from the membrane and in the cytoplasm, it makes nitric oxide, which eventually becomes nitrate. So it oxidizes both sulfur and nitrogen, and there's an intricate control mechanism that allows every single eNOS molecule to switch back and forth between those two options.
"It's important that it's one molecule controlling both the sulfate and the nitrate [oxidation] because these two molecules have very opposite effects on the blood. Sulfate gels the blood and nitrate turns it into water. It's called kosmotropes and chaotropes in chemical terms. They have opposite effects. And your body is always negotiating, 'Which way? Maybe the blood is too thick—let's put out some nitric oxide. Or maybe it's too thin—let's put some sulfate in.' It's able to titrate between the two very nicely with that one molecule [eNOS]."
Most scientists are still unfamiliar with this, and cannot understand why eNOS is always found on the membrane of red blood cells. "Articles are written where they're puzzling over why is it that red blood cells have eNOS, because there's no reason they would want to make nitric oxide," Dr. Seneff notes. "It's like carbon monoxide—it would poison the hemoglobin. They think, 'Oh, well, maybe it's vestigial.'"
The reason they don't understand it is because they're discounting the cholesterol sulfate component. They're only considering the nitric oxide, ignoring the fact that eNOS can switch back and forth and make both, thereby maintaining balance in your blood and ensuring that it's not too thick or too thin...
Why Sun Exposure Is the Ideal Way to Optimize Your Vitamin D Level
Dr. Seneff is against using high-dose oral vitamin D supplements, because doing so might fool your body into thinking the sulfate system is working when in reality it’s not. Essentially, the process begins in your skin: When sunshine or UVB light strikes your skin, vitamin D sulfate is produced. The vitamin D transports this sulfate to your liver, where the vitamin D gets oxidized by the CYP enzyme, thus becoming activated. Next, it’s transported to your kidney where it gets activated with another cytochrome p450 enzyme. You now have double-activated vitamin D.
"The signal that the vitamin D provides is a message that all those things are working," Dr. Seneff explains. "But if you take huge amounts of vitamin D supplements, you're fooling the system because you've got so much more vitamin D that some of it gets activated... You've got enough to fool your body into thinking the cytochrome p450 enzymes are working properly. That's why I think the answer is not to take huge amounts of vitamin D supplements."
Based on this chain of events, I really believe that optimizing your vitamin D level through sun exposure is the ideal strategy. Interestingly, the cholesterol sulfate also makes gelled water around the cell. I've previously interviewed Dr. Gerald Pollack, a biophysicist with the University of Washington, who is an expert on water. He calls this gel-like water EZ water (H2O3), which stands for exclusion zone. It's basically structured water, which is the type of water your cells are made of.
Electrons end up inside the structured water, and they become mobile. When an oxygen gas molecule comes in, it will get hit by one of those electrons. When you add that to a sulfur molecule, you end up with sulfate. This is basically what eNOS does. It has a zinc atom inside, which has a positive charge. The zinc is an important catalyst in this process, so if you're zinc deficient, your sulfate pathway is also disrupted. Here, again, glyphosate exposure is a factor, as glyphosate causes zinc deficiency by chelating it out.
Glyphosate May Be Related to Increase in Skin Cancer
In addition to all its other functions, the sulfate synthesis actually protects your body from the adverse effects of sun exposure. Unfortunately, many sunscreens contain aluminum nanoparticles – zinc oxide and titanium dioxide—and when you add aluminum to your skin, it interferes with the functioning of eNOS.
"It gets into the eNOS and ruins it, because the aluminum will displace the iron in the heme group, which will make the eNOS not work," Dr. Seneff says. "Of course, that's going to cause trouble in the liver, too, because the heme is part of the cytochrome p450 enzymes, which have this heme group that contains iron inside this porphyrin ring. The aluminum messes that up."
According to Dr. Seneff, exposure to glyphosate increases your risk of skin cancer via this mechanism. In a nutshell, there's a strong positive correlation between sunscreen usage and the rise in skin cancer, and Dr. Seneff believes this may be because the aluminum in the sunscreen in combination with glyphosate exposure through the food supply effectively prevents your body from detoxing. Again, both aluminum and glyphosate disrupt eNOS, albeit in different ways. Adding insult to injury, the retinoic acid in sunscreen also suppresses cholesterol sulfate synthesis.
Tying It All Together
While these issues are clearly complex, the take-home message is that cholesterol and sulfur are closely interrelated, and both are dependent on the vitamin D synthesized in your skin as a result of sun exposure. Taking high-dose vitamin D supplements will not have the identical effect, as it does not allow your body to make sulfate. That is why it is nearly always best to get your vitamin D from sensible sun exposure on large areas of your skin. I personally have not swallowed any oral vitamin D for five years.
Cholesterol sulfate is produced in sun-exposed skin by a cytochrome p450 enzyme called eNOS. When you are deficient in cholesterol sulfate from lack of sun exposure, your body employs another mechanism to increase it, as it is essential for optimal heart- and brain function. It does this by taking damaged LDL and turning it into plaque. Cholesterol is being stashed inside the plaque, awaiting a supply of sulfate so that it can be shipped out as cholesterol sulfate. This plaque causes the unfortunate side effect of increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease... In addition to promoting cardiovascular health, cholesterol sulfate is also necessary for the health of your red blood cells.
In short, the ideal way to raise your vitamin D and sulfate level, while simultaneously lowering your LDL cholesterol is to get appropriate amounts of sunlight exposure on your skin. To summarize the function and importance of eNOS, which creates the cholesterol sulfate, it's important to remember that eNOS is a dual-purpose enzyme that makes both sulfate and nitric oxide (NO).
Since eNOS is a cytochrome p450enzyme, it is disrupted by glyphosate. Aluminum, such as the aluminum nanoparticles found in sunscreens, also disrupts the function of eNOS—thereby preventing sulfate production. According to Dr. Seneff, the evidence suggests that the combination of glyphosate exposure and use of aluminum-based sunscreens may be responsible for the rise in skin cancer, despite the fact that people are massively avoiding sunlight. From my perspective, all of this supports two very basic health recommendations:
- Get an appropriate amount of sun exposure, without the use of sunscreen, to optimize your vitamin D and sulfate levels
- Swap out processed foods for organic whole foods to avoid glyphosate exposure