The Mineral That Helps Fight Fatigue, Stress, Pain, Cancer, and Wrinkles, Too
Posted By Dr. Mercola | September 12 2011
Sulfur is third most abundant mineral in your body. It is required for proper synthesis and biological activity of proteins and
enzymes, and plays an important role in your body's electron transport system; vitamin conversion; synthesizing metabolic
intermediates such as glutathione; detoxification; joint health; and proper insulin function, just to name a few. The primary
dietary sources of sulfur are fish, grass-fed beef and free-range poultry. It's also available in lower amounts in eggs and certain
vegetables. Methylsulfonylmethane, MSM, as a dietary supplement is an ideal source of organic sulfur.
Sulfur is the third most abundant mineral in your body, after calcium and phosphorous. It's an important mineral element that
you get almost wholly through dietary proteins, yet it's been over 20 years since the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board (FNB)
issued its last update on recommended daily allowances (RDA) for it.
In a study examining critical elements about how sulfur works in the body, researchers say the importance of this mineral may
be underestimated, and that it's possible that we may not be getting enough of it.
The Importance of Sulfur
Close to half of the sulfur in your body can be found in your muscles, skin and bones, but it does much more than benefit just
these three areas. It plays important roles in many bodily systems.
Sulfur bonds are required for proteins to maintain their shape, and these bonds determine the biological activity of the proteins.
For example, as explained in the featured MSM newsletter, hair and nails consists of a tough protein called keratin, which is
high in sulfur, whereas connective tissue and cartilage contain proteins with flexible sulfur bonds, giving the structure its
flexibility. With age, the flexible tissues in your body tend to lose their elasticity, leading to sagging and wrinkling of skin, stiff
muscles and painful joints. A shortage of sulfur likely contributes to these age-related problems.
In addition to bonding proteins, sulfur is also required for the proper structure and biological activity of enzymes. If you don't
have sufficient amounts of sulfur in your body the enzymes cannot function properly, which can cascade into a number of health
problems as without biologically active enzymes, your metabolic processes cannot function properly.
Sulfur also plays an important role in:
*Your body's electron transport system, as part of iron/sulfur proteins in mitochondria, the energy factories of your cells.
*Vitamin-B thiamine (B1) and biotin conversion, which in turn are essential for converting carbohydrates into energy.
*Synthesizing important metabolic intermediates, such as glutathione.
*Proper insulin function. The insulin molecule consists of two amino acid chains connected to each other by sulfur bridges,
without which the insulin cannot perform its biological activity.
The featured study looked at a broad scope of overlapping metabolic pathways in order to determine which ones may be
affected by insufficient intake of dietary sulfur. They also evaluated the modes of action of a variety of sulfur-containing dietary
supplements, including chondroitin and glucosamine, commonly used to improve joint health.
According to the authors:
"Sulfur amino acids contribute substantially to the maintenance and integrity of the cellular systems by influencing cellular redox
state and the capacity to detoxify toxic compounds, free radicals and reactive oxygen species.
... Sulfur containing metabolites, of which glutathione is a key exponent, merge in their functioning with many other compounds
that play a major role in mechanisms which are receiving tremendous interests as parts of conventional and complementary
medical care. These include the n-3 and n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, minerals such as Selenium, Zinc, Copper and
Magnesium, vitamins E and C, antioxidants such as the proanthocyanidins and lipoic acid, many of which are involved in the
synthesis of prostaglandins and in the antioxidant cascade.
More and more evidence is accumulating and focusing on the cooperative role that glutathione and other sulfur metabolites
play in the homeostatic control of these fundamental mechanisms."
Are You Getting Enough Sulfur in Your Diet?
As stated in the featured research, only two of the 20 amino acids normally present in foods contain sulfur:
1. Methionine, which cannot be synthesized by your body and must be supplied through diet, and
2. Cysteine, which is synthesized by your body but requires a steady supply of dietary sulfur in order to do so.
Neither of these are stored in your body. Rather, "any dietary excess is readily oxidized to sulphate, excreted in the urine (or
reabsorbed depending on dietary levels) or stored in the form of glutathione (GSH)," according to the researchers. (Glutathione
is comprised of three amino acids: cysteine, glutamate, and glycine, and is your body's most potent antioxidant, which also
keeps all other antioxidants performing at peak levels.)
"The availability of cysteine appears to be the rate limiting factor for synthesis of glutathione (GSH).
GSH values are subnormal in a large number of wasting diseases and following certain medications leading frequently to poor
survival. By supplying sulfur amino acids (SAA) many of these changes can be reversed.
In the brain, which is usually the most spared organ during nutrient deficiencies, GSH concentration declines in order to
maintain adequate levels of cysteine. This loss of GSH impairs antioxidant defences... Cartilage, less essential for survival, may
not fare well under conditions of sulfur deprivation, explaining why dietary supplements containing sulfur (chondroitin sulfate,
glucosamine sulfate, MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane), etc.) may be of benefit in the treatment of joint diseases."
In conclusion, they state that:
"Out of this study came information that suggested that a significant proportion of the population that included disproportionally
the aged, may not be receiving sufficient sulfur and that these dietary supplements, were very likely exhibiting their
pharmacological actions by supplying inorganic sulfur."
Dietary Sources of Sulfur
The best and most ideal way to obtain sulfur is through your diet. Sulfur is derived almost exclusively from dietary protein, such
as fish and high-quality (organic and/or grass-fed/pastured) beef and poultry. Meat and fish are considered "complete" as they
contain all the sulfur-containing amino acids you need to produce new protein. Needless to say, those who abstain from animal
protein are placing themselves at far greater risk of sulfur deficiency.
Other dietary sources that contain small amounts of sulfur include:
Organic pastured eggs
MSM, an Organic Form of Sulfur
Methylsulfonylmethane, commonly known by its acronym, MSM, is not a drug. It's an organic form of sulfur and a potent
antioxidant, naturally found in many plants. While MSM is an important source of organic sulfur, it also has other unique
properties. Common health complaints associated with low concentrations of MSM in your body include:
High sensitivity to physical and psychological stress
MSM's ability to neutralize inflammation is one of the greatest, and one of the most inexpensive, discoveries in the health field,
and is thought to be particularly beneficial in the prevention of heart disease. It has been shown to break down the plaque in
your arteries, which is associated with chronic inflammation.
Other health benefits associated with MSM include:
Reducing chronic pain
Improving cellular uptake of many nutrients including vitamins A, B, C, D, E, amino acids, selenium, calcium, magnesium,
Reducing or eliminating muscle soreness and cramps
Alleviating symptoms of allergies
Anti-parasitic action against Giardia, Trichomonas, roundworms, nematodes, Enterobius and other intestinal worms
Improving lung function by allowing your body to more effectively take up oxygen
Preventing neurological disease by repairing oxidative damage and restoring cell membrane elasticity and permeability
Preventing and reducing symptoms of autoimmune diseases by fighting chronic inflammation
Preventing diabetes by promoting healthy insulin function
Increasing strength and endurance, and reducing stress
Sources of MSM, and Dosages
MSM can be found in:
Raw grass-fed milk
Fresh vegetables, and
The amounts of sulfur you can obtain from these sources range between one to five mg/kg. Raw pastured milk contains the
highest amounts of MSM: between two to five mg/kg. However, it's important to know that MSM is rapidly lost during heating, so
pasteurized milk is not a good source. It contains less than 0.25 mg/kg MSM… Ditto for thoroughly cooked vegetables, and
fruits and vegetables kept for a period of time. Hence, you'll want to consume most of your veggies raw as soon as possible
after harvesting. If you eat a diet consisting primarily of processed and thoroughly cooked foods, you can be virtually
guaranteed that you're not getting sufficient amounts of sulfur in your diet.
MSM is also highly concentrated in aloe vera, so you can use natural aloe vera products to increase your intake of MSM in its
Another alternative is to take MSM as a dietary supplement. In a previous interview, superfood expert David Wolfe
recommended taking about 2,500 mg per day to start; slowly working your way up to about 5,000 to 7,500 mg per day. Keep in
mind that there may be side effects because MSM can detoxify you, and that may initially aggravate any condition you have. So
increase dosage slowly to allow your body to adjust. Avoid increasing the dose until all detox symptoms have disappeared. Also,
avoid taking it at night, as it may increase your energy levels.
As with most supplements, quality is a concern when it comes to MSM as well. It's important to note that if you're allergic to sulfa
drugs, you may also have trouble with MSM.
Aside from that, MSM is extremely non-toxic. So far no one has found an upper limit at which point it causes toxic effects. This
fact makes it an ideal form of sulfur supplementation, as the sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cysteine can both
cause toxic symptoms at large doses.
Source: Nutrition and Metabolism November 6, 2007
Source: The MSM Miracle August 2011