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Vitamins, Minerals and Dietary Supplements

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Sulfur

What is sulfur?

The mineral sulfur plays a vital role in the body. As an individual element, it makes up an important part of the proteins responsible for the formation of hair, muscles and skin. It is also a component of bones, teeth and collagen. It is also an important ingredient in insulin, the substance used to regulate blood sugar.

In terms of metabolic processes, sulfur contributes to the digestion and absorption of fat, because it is needed to help make bile acids. It is also necessary for synthesizing collagen, and is required for the metabolism of several vitamins, including thiamine, biotin and pantothenic acid. Many health experts claim that a sulfur-containing supplement known as methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) can treat a wide variety of disorders. To date, these claims remain unsubstantiated.

How much sulfur should I take?

A recommended daily allowance for sulfur has yet to be established. However, because most dietary sulfur is consumed as part of certain amino acids (methionine, cystine and cysteine) found in foods rich in protein, diets that contain high amounts of protein-rich foods should provide an adequate source of dietary sulfur.

What are some good sources of sulfur? What forms are available?

Meat and poultry, organ meats, fish, beans and dairy products are all good sources of sulfur-containing amino acids. Sulfur also occurs in garlic and onions. Many supplements also provide trace amounts of sulfur.

What can happen if I don't get enough sulfur? What can happen if I take too much? Are there any side-effects I should be aware of?

Sulfur deficiencies have yet to be thoroughly documented. A study in the 1930s found that patients with arthritis appeared to have low levels of sulfur, but no definitive link has been established. Protein-deficient diets and use of tobacco may lead to sulfur deficiency, but since most Western diets are high in protein, they probably supply an adequate amount of sulfur.

As of this writing, there are no known side-effects or drug interactions with the use of sulfur supplements.

References

  • Augusti KT. Therapeutic values of onion (Allium cepa L.) and garlic (Allium sativum L.). Ind J Exp Biol 1996;34:634—40.
  • Bella DL, Hahn C, Stipanuk MH. Effects of nonsulfur and sulfur amino acids on the regulation of hepatic enzymes of cysteine metabolism. Am J Physiol 1999 Jul;277(1 Pt 1):E144-53.
  • Cole DE, Evrovski J. The clinical chemistry of inorganic sulfate. Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci 2000 Aug;37(4):299-344.
  • Hamadeh MJ, Hoffer LJ. Use of sulfate production as a measure of short-term sulfur amino acid catabolism in humans. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 2001 Jun;280(6):E857-66.
  • Magee EA, Richardson CJ, Hughes R, Cummings JH. Contribution of dietary protein to sulfide production in the large intestine: an in vitro and a controlled feeding study in humans. Am J Clin Nutr 2000 Dec;72(6):1488-94.

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