Sulfur is the third most abundant mineral in our body, after calcium and phosphorous. It’s an important mineral element that one can get almost wholly through dietary proteins. Sulfur is a multivalent non-metal, abundant, tasteless and odorless. In its native form sulfur is a yellow crystalline solid. In nature, it occurs as the pure element or as sulfide and sulfate minerals. Although sulfur is infamous for its smell, frequently compare to rotten eggs, that odor is actually characteristic of hydrogen sulfide (H2S). The crystallography of sulfur is complex. Depending on the specific conditions, sulfur allotropes form several distinct crystal structures.
The major derivative of sulfur is sulfuric acid (H2SO4), one of the most important elements used as an industrial raw material. Sulfur is also used in batteries, detergents, fungicides, manufacture of fertilizers, gun power, matches and fireworks. Other applications are making corrosion-resistant concrete which has great strength and is frost resistant, for solvents and in a host of other products of the chemical and pharmaceutical industries (Parcell, 2002).
Sulfur in the environment
Life on Earth may have been possible because of sulfur. Conditions in the early seas were such that simple chemical reactions could have generated the range of amino acids that are the building blocks of life.
Sulfur occurs naturally near volcanoes. Native sulfur occurs naturally as massive deposits in Texas and Louisiana in the USA. Many sulfide minerals are known: pyrite and marcasite are iron sulfide; stibnite is antimony sulfide; galena is lead sulfide; cinnabar is mercury sulfide and sphalerite is zinc sulfide. Other, more important, sulfide ores are chalcopyrite, bornite, pentlandite, millerite and molybdenite. The chief source of sulfur for an industry is the hydrogen sulfide of natural gas, Canada is the main producer (Meyer, 2013).
Daily recommended intake of sulfur
Sulfur is a component of all plant and animal cells, making up approximately 0.25 percent of your total body weight. Because of its ubiquity and a lack of scientific research, there is no recommended daily intake for sulfur. However, the National Academies Food and Nutrition Board suggests that 0.2 to 1.5 grams per day should be enough to meet our body’s needs. As most people eat between 3 to 6 grams per day, insufficient dietary sulfur is not a common issue.
Signs and symptoms of sulfur deficiency
Common health complaints associated with low concentrations of Organic Sulfur in our body include: (Nimmi, 2007)
- Fatigue and sluggishness
- Brittle nails and hair
- Hair loss and slow growth of hair
- Poor growth of fingernails
- Joint problems like arthritis
- Skin problems like rash
- Dermatitis and eczema
- Skeletal and growth problems
- Varicose veins and poor circulation
- Increased aging of skin
- Inability to digest fats
- Blood sugar problems
- Inability to digest food
- Increased allergies
- Parasitical infestations
Sulfur is part of methionine and cysteine, which are amino acids needed in the making of proteins. So, if there is too little sulfur or a sulfur deficiency, it could lead to reduced protein synthesis. The sulfur-containing amino acid cysteine is also needed for making glutathione, which is somewhat of a superhero in our body because it works as a potent antioxidant that protects our cells from damage. So sulfur deficiency can cause a cascade of other problems. For instance, without sufficient sulfur to make cysteine, there could be reduced glutathione synthesis, which may contribute to cell damage.
Sulfur is also needed to create connective tissues that support our joints, such as cartilage, tendons and ligaments. So, a deficiency of sulfur could contribute to joint pain or disease.
Top health benefits of sulfur
Sulfur detoxifies the body cells and also relieves pain
Our body cells in healthy state ingest sufficient nutrients while removing toxins and wastes from the body. Sulfur influences this activity by facilitating our body to build strong, healthy and breathable cell walls that maintain harmony with cell pressure. Adequate amounts of sulfur in the body aids in removing toxins that may asphyxiate the cells, or swell them, resulting in pain, allergies, stiffness, and muscle soreness (Venes, 2013).
It is important for insulin production
The insulin molecule consists of two amino acid chains attached to each other by sulfur bridges, without which the insulin is unable to perform its biological activity. Inadequate sulfur makes it difficult for the pancreas to produce enough insulin, which is required for carbohydrate metabolism.Sulfur aids in the production of insulin as well as other sulfur-based amino acids that help in regulating blood sugar levels (Houssay, 1950).
Sulfur is a “Beauty Mineral”
Sulfur combats the cross-linkage of collagen production in the body which is associated with aging. Sulfur enhances hair, cuticle and nail growth and health. It also plays a role in reducing wrinkles, resolving acne, and scars. Sufficient amount of sulfur in the body helps to maintain healthy hair and skin and removes toxins from the body creating new skin cells.
Sulfur is anti-parasitic, anti-microbial and anti-fungal
Sulfur combats parasitic, microbial, and fungal infections in the intestinal and urogenital tracts by competing for binding or “receptor” sites at the mucous membrane, blocking the interface between the host and the parasite, and to augment immunological competence.
Sulfur lessens the symptoms of a large number of allergies, including food allergies, contact allergies, inhalation allergies, and others. Organic sulfur has an ability to bind to mucous membranes and form a natural block against allergens. Another way sulfur can alleviate allergies is through detoxification, elimination of free radicals, and improvement of cell permeability. Sulfur works as a histamine inhibitor at least as well as the traditional antihistamines, without the negative side effects (Ley, 1998).
According to the University of Maryland, sulfur has been shown to be effective for osteoarthritis, rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis. Sulfur baths or mud-soaks can help alleviate the painful swelling caused by arthritis. Taking a sulfur bath at night can reduce stiffness you experience first thing in the morning. Additionally, sulfur baths can improve walking ability and overall strength. Applying a cream containing DMSO may reduce pain in some types of arthritis. Lastly, taking a supplement with 6,000 mg of MSM sulfur can reduce pain associated with arthritis, but it may have more beneficial effects when paired with glucosamine.
Naturally Increases energy
Due to the increased permeability of the cells, less energy is required to deal with the accumulation of toxins. This results in more energy being redirected towards activity and necessary healing. Digestion is the biggest energy requirement of the body (Approximately 70-80% of your energy is spent on digestion each day). Organic sulfur increases the absorption of nutrients so that the energy expenditure on digestion is vastly reduced.
Organic sulfur is anti-inflammatory due to its ability to allow metabolic wastes to be removed from the cells. Excess weight on the body is actually inflammation. The cells of the body are chronically inflamed and retaining the byproducts of metabolic processes. Sulfur needs to be present in order to facilitate removal of these toxins and wastes to be removed from the body.
Research has shown that Organic sulfur is highly effective in improving joint flexibility. Additionally, it helps to produce flexible skin and muscle tissue. This leads to an increase in overall flexibility due to a restoration of the “juiciness” in the tissues.
Sulfur helps mobilize Vitamin D from the Sun
When unprotected skin is exposed to the sun, the skin synthesizes vitamin D3 sulfate. While vitamin D is normally considered fat soluble, vitamin D3 sulfate is a form of the vitamin that is actually water soluble. This allows this type of vitamin D to travel freely in the bloodstream. On a side note, the vitamin D3 in supplements is not the same vitamin D3 as what you get from the sun and should not be considered an adequate substitute.Sunlight exposed skin also produces large amounts of cholesterol sulfate. The sun, then, has the potential to provide sulfur to the body in the form of vitamin D3 sulfate and cholesterol sulfate.
Best natural sources of sulfur (Food)
The top 10 foods containing sulfur (Mussinan, 1994) are listed below:
Scallops, lobsters and crabs are loaded with high quantities of sulfur. For example, as few as 10 steamed scallops contain as much as 510 mgs sulfur.
Almost all the meat forms contain high doses of sulfur in them. Some of the common examples are fried veal cutlet, roasted fillet, roasted lamb heart, boiled chicken, etc.
Milk and milk products
Milk and milk products also have an abundance of sulfur in them. Parmesan cheese is probably the best example. Just 10 grams of parmesan cheese contains almost 250 mgs of sulfur in them.
Salmon, tuna, sardines and other kinds of canned fishes are sulfur rich. Baked cod, fish cakes and fish cutlets are also rich in sulfur content.
Cruciferous veggies, including: bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, mustard leaves, radish, turnips, watercress.
Grains and Cereals
Common grains and cereals like flour, muesli, cornflakes, porridge, rice, etc. are great sulfur supplements.
Nuts also provide ample amounts of sulfur. Almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios, peanuts almost all kinds of nuts have varying proportions of sulfur in them.
Sauces and Condiments
Sauces and condiments are a tasty way of consuming sulfur. Sauces like the barbeque sauce, chili sauce, tomato sauce, tartare sauce, soy sauce and others fall in this category. Condiments like salad mayonnaise, mustard powder, etc. also are rich sulfur sources.
Jams and Spreads
Common jams and spreads like marmalade, peanut butter, honey, etc. have considerable sulfur contents in them.
Even beverages like sherry, beer, red wine, lemonade, drinking chocolate, tea and coffee provide some amount of sulfur to our bodies.
Eggs are not only a rich source of protein, they’re high in sulfur, with the white, or albumen, containing the majority. Each egg yolk contains 0.016 milligram of sulfur, and the white contains 0.195 milligram.
Side effects & concerns of sulfur
Health effects of sulfur
All living things need sulfur. It is especially important for humans because it is part of the amino acid methionine, which is an absolute dietary requirement for us. The amino acid cysteine also contains sulfur. The average person takes in around 900 mg of sulfur per day, mainly in the form of protein.
Elemental sulfur is not toxic, but many simple sulfur derivatives are, such as sulfur dioxide (SO2) and hydrogen sulfide.Sulfur can be found commonly in nature as sulfides. During several processes sulfur bonds are added to the environment that are damaging to animals, as well as humans. These damaging sulfur bonds are also shaped in nature during various reactions, mostly when substances that are not naturally present have already been added. They are unwanted because of their unpleasant smells and are often highly toxic.
Globally sulfur substances can have the following effects on human health:
– Neurological effects and behavioral changes
– Disturbance of blood circulation
– Heart damage
– Effects on eyes and eyesight
– Reproductive failure
– Damage to immune systems
– Stomach and gastrointestinal disorder
– Damage to liver and kidney functions
– Hearing defects
– Disturbance of the hormonal metabolism
– Dermatological effects
– Suffocation and lung embolism
Effects of sulfur on the environment
Sulfur can be found in the air in many different forms. It can cause irritations of the eyes and the throat with animals, when the uptake takes place through inhalation of sulfur in the gaseous phase. Sulfur is applied in industries widely and emitted to air, due to the limited possibilities of the destruction of the sulfur bonds that are applied. The damaging effects of sulfur with animals are mostly brain damage, through malfunctioning of the hypothalamus, and damage to the nervous system.
Laboratory tests with test animals have indicated that sulfur can cause serious vascular damage in veins of the brains, the heart and the kidneys. These tests have also indicated that certain forms of sulfur can cause fetal damage and congenital effects. Mothers can even carry sulfur poisoning over to their children through mother milk. Finally, sulfur can damage the internal enzyme systems of animals.
Natural ways and ideas to add more sulfur into your diet
We get most of the sulfur we need from animal foods with high methionine and/or cysteine content (all preferably organic grass fed, free range, wild caught to minimize exposure to toxins):
- organ meats
- traditionally prepared bone broths
So several meat recipes can be made part of our daily diet. Organic sulfur is present in animal foods too, but it is a highly volatile compound and most of it is lost in the steam during cooking and pasteurization.
Raw milk and other raw dairy are the best animal sources of organic sulfur. Bone broths also contain organic sulfur because some of it remains dissolved in liquid. Whey protein is an excellent source of bonded cysteine that is used by cells to synthesize the all-important glutathione (Masters, 1939).
Most fruits also contain organic sulfur, but no sulfur from cysteine or methionine, because there is hardly any protein in fruits. Organic sulfur has also been found in tea, coffee, beer and port wines.It is not easy to determine sulfur content in foods because the amounts depend greatly on the quality of soil and farming practices. it is important to eat vegetables and fruits raw, or only minimally processed.
Sulfur comes with a powerful range of benefits. Sulfur is essential to all living things. It is taken up as sulfate from the soil (or seawater) by plants and algae. It is used to make two of the essential amino acids needed to make proteins. It is also needed in some co-enzymes. The average human contains 140 grams and takes in about 1 gram a day, mainly in proteins.
Explore Appreciate Goods
- MSM Supplements: Benefits, Uses, Side Effects. Dosage & Where to Buy
- Choline: Health benefits, Deficiencies and Natural Sources of Choline
- Vitamin K: Deficiencies, Health Benefits, Best Sources, Side Effects
- Houssay, B. A. (1950). Action of Sulfur compounds on carbohydrate metabolism and on diabetes. The American Journal of the Medical Sciences, 219(4), 353-367.
- Ley, B. M. (1998). MSM: On Our Way Back To Health With Sulfur. Bl Publications.
- Masters, M., & McCance, R. A. (1939). The sulphur content of foods. Biochemical Journal, 33(8), 1304.
- Meyer, B. (2013). Sulfur, energy, and environment. Elsevier.
- Mussinan, C. J., & Keelan, M. E. (1994). Sulfur compounds in foods. American chemical society.
- Nimni, M. E., Han, B., & Cordoba, F. (2007). Are we getting enough sulfur in our diet? Nutrition & Metabolism, 4(1), 1.
- Parcell, S. (2002). Sulfur in human nutrition and applications in medicine. Alternative Medicine Review, 7(1), 22-44.
- Venes, D. (2013). Taber’s cyclopedic medical dictionary. FA Davis.