Sulfur, which is present in every cell of our bodies, is the third most abundant mineral in the body and is crucial in forming a variety of sulfate compounds that perform a vast array of biological processes.1 Many experts recognize we are at risk of sulfur deficiency due to diets high in grains, mineral-depleted soils, and acetaminophen use2 in particular. Sulfur deficiency increases risk of conditions that are very common complaints today such as joint pain, acne, depression, early aging, and many other conditions which can be improved by increasing sulfur-containing foods and supplements.3
The two potent sulfur-containing amino acids are cysteine and methionine which are found in protein-rich foods like grass-fed meat, organic poultry, wild-caught Alaskan salmon, and eggs which offer the richest source. For vegans, acceptable sulfur-containing protein sources are nuts, seeds, soy products and other legumes. Dairy, some fruits, onions, garlic, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, as well as leafy greens like kale and spinach, also contain high amounts of beneficial sulfur compounds.
Our bodies have to contend with increasingly toxic environments that oxidize our cells such as chemicals, pollutants, inadequate diets, and high-stress lifestyles. It is becoming increasingly important to consume sulfur as it has a starring role in glutathione production, the body’s master antioxidant. Sulfur also enables the removal of some heavy metals, such as aluminum and mercury, which can also contribute to abnormal cell functioning.4
The cruciferous vegetables have become popular for their anti-cancer properties as they are rich in the compound sulforaphane, which increases liver enzyme detoxification activity, protecting against cell mutations and cancer. Sulfur is also present in bile, which the liver uses to not only digest fat, but also to discard toxins in the liver. To optimize sulforaphane content in broccoli, it is best to consume lightly steamed, instead of raw or overcooked. Interestingly, the most potent concentration of sulforaphane is found in broccoli sprouts. For those with digestive issues, Epsom salt baths are a great way to support mood and detoxification as they provide sulfur in the form of magnesium sulfate and bypass the digestive tract.
A sulfur-containing compound found in most of the aforementioned foods is methylsulfonylmethane, or MSM, which acts as a potent antioxidant with anti-inflammatory abilities to control pain. MSM has remarkable effects on healing injuries, reducing muscle stiffness and even arthritis by supplementing in the range of 1-3 grams per day.5 If supplementing, it is important to start with a low dose and work your way up.
Sulfur is also one of the surprising key elements that give us ageless skin, shiny hair and healthy nails as it is used to synthesize collagen and metabolize biotin and other vitamins. Sulfur in MSM form is often credited to healing skin conditions such as psoriasis and rosacea.6 Collagen is abundant in muscles, bones, blood vessels, tendons and the digestive system which make sulfur imperative for whole body health and repair.
Keep in mind that this is a broad overview of sulfur. The benefits and sources of sulfur are vast, and as with any supplementation regime, it is important to speak with a qualified health care practitioner to determine what is best for you.
Tiffany is a certified nutrition consultant and functional diagnostic nutrition practitioner and can be reached at (760) 285.1221. For more information visit tiffanydalton.com.