By Dr. Mercola
Sulfur may be referred to as a somewhat "forgotten" mineral that you don't hear mentioned very often, but it's very important for optimal body function. Scientists are now saying it's possible you're not getting enough sulfur in your diet, in spite of the fact that it's found in so many foods.
Some of the most excellent sources are high-protein foods such as organic, pastured eggs, grass-fed meats, nuts and wild-caught Alaskan salmon, and it's also found in leafy greens like kale, spinach and broccoli, as well as in onions and garlic.
Why is sulfur important? As MIT science researcher Stephanie Seneff wrote for the Weston A. Price Foundation noted:1
"Sulfur is known as a healing mineral, and a sulfur deficiency often leads to pain and inflammation associated with various muscle and skeletal disorders.
Sulfur plays a role in many biological processes, one of which is metabolism. It is present in insulin, the essential hormone that promotes the utilization of sugar derived from carbohydrates for fuel in muscle and fat cells."
Sulfur: The Third Most Abundant Mineral in Your Body
Six chemical elements — oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorus — make up 99 percent of your body mass. The next five — potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium — kick in that last 1 percent in slightly varying degrees.
But while sulfur seems to be relatively inconsequential in this list, the fact is it's the third most abundant mineral in your body. One of its most vibrant functions is as an antioxidant.
Sulfur is present in all living tissues. It's a component in two important amino acids: methionine (mainly from egg whites and fish), which is essential, meaning your body doesn't synthesize and must be obtained from an outside source, and cysteine, which needs sulfur at a steady rate and is synthesized by your body.
Your skin, muscles and bones contain about half the sulfur in your body. Your hair and nails, made of the sturdy protein keratin, contain a large share of sulfur, while your cartilage and connective tissues are a more flexible form, which changes and breaks down over time, leading to recognizable signs of aging.
Some of these indicators include wrinkles, sore muscles and joint pain, which may be an indication of a sulfur deficiency.
What's so Special About Sulfur?
Sulfur plays a critical role in detoxification, as it is part of one of the most important antioxidants that your body produces: glutathione. Without sulfur, glutathione is rendered ineffective. That's significant because glutathione is your body's built-in detoxifier.
One study explained that significance in a report about how sulfur and some of its compounds may protect against exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, X-rays and radiation, and can be used for detoxification.2
Scientists concede that a sulfur deficiency may be a base cause for Alzheimer's disease, which is growing exponentially every year. One article discussed the association between dementia and other prevalent problems and a shortage of sulfur in the body:
"Interestingly, sulfur is a very potent Aluminum Antagonist, which should satisfy those who maintain that aluminum is a significant factor with Alzheimer's disease.
Likewise, a majority of younger and older patients who were suffering from a 'foggy mind,' concentration problems, and/or poor memory, showed below-normal sulfur levels, including many children or adults diagnosed with ADD / ADHD …"3
Another article outlined reasons why sulfur and sulfate shortages within the body may explain the prevalence of heart disease. Research scientist Stephanie Seneff, Ph.D. at MIT called cholesterol sulfate a "mysterious molecule" that fluctuates in the blood and causes instability that may help cause cardiovascular disease.4
Research backs up traditional remedies pointing to topical remedies using sulfur and MSM as an effective treatment for acne and other skin conditions, such as acne, rosacea, scabies, seborrheic dermatitis and parasites.5
The Science Behind the Healing in Sulfur-Containing Foods
Several beneficial compounds containing sulfur express themselves with healing in your body. Glucosinolates are one of them, found primarily in crucifer vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli and cabbage, and leafy green veggies like kale, collard greens and arugula.
When you cut or bite into cruciferous vegetables, you'll detect a pungent odor, caused by sulfur-infused glucosinolates being released.
The George Mateljan Foundation a not-for-profit organization that studies scientific information on healthy foods and specific nutrients explained how this phenomenon has dual benefits, taste-wise and in healing:
"The cutting process may actually increase certain health benefits since some of the newly formed (and transformed) sulfur-containing molecules have been shown to have cancer-preventive properties.
This includes the sulfur-containing glucosinolates, which are formed when an enzyme called myrosinase is activated."6
Interestingly, scientists suggest that if you plan to cook your crucifer veggies you chop them, then allow them to rest for a few minutes beforehand so that the maximum benefit can be released. Cooking them too soon after cutting prevents the myrosinase enzymes from forming, so the benefits are lost.
The Significance of MSM and DMSO
MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) is a naturally occurring sulfur compound in your body that's well known for supporting your joints, but it's also useful in other areas of your body. The make-up of MSM is 34 percent sulfur by weight, but it also affects sulfur metabolism.
Perhaps the best way you know if you don't have enough MSM in your system is by symptoms that may include fatigue, prevalence in experiencing high stress, physically and psychologically, depression and even degenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's disease, arteriosclerosis, osteoarthritis and cancer.
MSM metabolizes dimethyl sulfoxide, a controversial anti-inflammatory and analgesic compound known as DMSO, which, unfortunately, is approved for use in veterinary medicine only, not in humans. One article7 explained that DMSO:
" … [H]olds promise in managing a wide range of debilitating health conditions. DMSO is an approved pharmacological agent in more than 125 countries, and its safety and therapeutic effects are backed by nearly 50 years of research and more than 10,000 scientific articles on its biological implications."
One article discusses Dr. Stanley Jacob's research on DMSO and its benefits in many applications, including the treatment of head trauma. According to Jacob, its ability as a free-radical scavenger and diuretic is part of the key to improving the blood supply to the brain, which reduces swelling:
"This improves blood oxygenation to brain tissue. Injured brain cells often aren't dead. When these cells get increased blood supply and more oxygen, and when the free radicals are scavenged, dying cells can recover, and brain swelling is reduced very rapidly."
Sulfur Deficiency in Regard to Obesity
It's no secret that obesity has overtaken an alarming percentage of the American population, but it's also an epidemic worldwide. One reason is because so many countries have embraced the Western diet. What does that have to do with sulfur deficiency? Again, as Seneff wrote for the Weston A. Price Foundation:
"A diet high in grains like bread and cereal is likely to be deficient in sulfur. Increasingly, whole foods such as corn and soybeans are disassembled into component parts with chemical names, and then reassembled into heavily processed foods. Sulfur is lost along the way, and so is the awareness that this loss matters."8
The problem with this type of diet is that it's heavy on grains, such as bread, hamburger buns, and cereal, where the sulfur content is low. Developing "fast" food and convenience food was actually a brilliant marketing ploy.
But in the rush to polish off the fuel needed to keep functioning, important things like nutrition have gone by the wayside. Additionally, food manufacturers that "fortify" foods, such as breakfast cereals, with a dozen or so vitamins and minerals have misled many consumers to believe they're feeding their children a "complete" breakfast that's not only good for them but also convenient!
Mineral Deficiencies Sometimes Cause 'Mystery' Symptoms
Stephanie Seneff has a few theories:
"My extensive literature search has led me to two mysterious molecules found in the blood stream and in many other parts of the body: vitamin D3 sulfate and cholesterol sulfate. Upon exposure to the sun, the skin synthesizes vitamin D3 sulfate, a form of vitamin D that, unlike unsulfated vitamin D3, is water-soluble.
As a consequence, it can travel freely in the blood stream rather than encapsulated inside LDL (the so-called 'bad' cholesterol) for transport. The form of vitamin D that is present in both human milk and raw cow's milk is vitamin D3 sulfate (pasteurization destroys it in cow's milk)."9
A few other minerals that you may not be getting enough of are magnesium and sulfate (which soaking in an Epsom salts bath may help alleviate). A shortage of these could lead to high blood pressure, heart problems, high blood pressure and symptoms like leg cramps, muscle twitches or spasms.
Eating more vegetables, nuts and seafood is a good way to avoid deficiencies in these minerals, which could help you avoid developing serious diseases and disorders.
How to Increase Your Sulfur Intake Naturally
One of the most basic ways to obtain sulfur is by drinking water. In fact, you get about 10 percent of the sulfur in your body in this way. Hard tap water may contain more sulfur than soft water, and studies indicate that the incidences of heart disease are greater for those who drink soft water.10
If you want to increase your sulfur intake, one of the best things you can do is eat more sulfur-rich foods. Eating foods like garlic, for instance (as opposed to taking a garlic supplement), is an example; a good amount would be three cloves per day — raw and crushed or chopped before eating.
There are individuals who don't care for garlic. If this applies to you, gazpacho and pesto are good ways to enjoy garlic in the raw, since mixing it with complementary foods dissipates the odor compounds and backs them off a bit. Another delicious and easy way to do that is to sprinkle garlic with olive oil and roast it, especially with sweet potatoes, carrots and onions.
Allium Vegetables Contain Disease-Preventing Sulfur Compounds
Clinical studies have identified organic sulfur-containing compounds (OSCs) from allium vegetables (such as garlic and onions) as potentially beneficial in preventing many diseases, including "infections, cardiovascular and metabolic affections, cancers and related indispositions."11
One study observed that garlic has been used for treating infections for thousands of years in many areas of the world, including Egypt, India, China and Greece. Its antibacterial, antibiotic, antiseptic, antiviral and antifungal benefits are due, at least in part, to the sulfur. As reported in the Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal:
"Garlic has historically been used to treat earaches, leprosy, deafness, severe diarrhea, constipation and parasitic infections, and to lower fever, fight infections and relieve stomach aches.
The most compelling evidence [is] that garlic and related sulfur constituents can suppress cancer risk and alter the biological behaviour of tumors. Experimentally, garlic and its associated sulfur components are reported to suppress tumor incidence in breast, colon, skin, uterine, esophagus and lung cancers."12