Sulfur is the third most abundant mineral in your body. It is present in methionine and cysteine, which are two of the amino acids you use to make proteins. Both of these amino acids are present in your skin, hair, and nails where they help to make these tissues strong and flexible.
You obtain the sulfur your body needs from animal and plant-based proteins as well as other types of compounds such as sulfinates, allicin, and sulfides. Sulfur is also present in thiamin (vitamin B-1) and biotin (vitamin H).
Why You Need Sulfur
Your body needs sulfur to build and fix your DNA and protect your cells from damage that can lead to serious diseases such as cancers. Sulfur also assists your body to metabolize food and contributes to the health of your skin, tendons, and ligaments.
The two amino acids that include sulfur are methionine and cysteine. Methionine is an essential amino acid that cannot be synthesized by your body and must be consumed from protein-based sources. Cysteine, on the other hand, is a non-essential amino acid and is synthesized by your body. You don't need to consume it directly, but you do need to consume sulfur in forms that can be used to produce this compound.
Sulfur is also found in glucosamine sulfate, chondroitin sulfate, and methylsulfonylmethane, (which you may recognize as MSM). These three supplements are frequently used to relieve joint pain and inflammation. Some natural health practitioners believe they may also improve the quality of skin, fingernails, and other tissues.
These therapeutic benefits are not completely proven or understood, however, it has been proposed that this may be due, in part, to the presence of serum sulfates in them.
No recommended daily amounts have been proposed for sulfur intake. However, it has been proposed that in some cases, too much sulfur in the diet can lead to intestinal problems, including:
These conditions can result when bacteria in the intestines convert excess sulfates to hydrogen sulfide gas (H2S).
Foods with Sulfur
Dietary sulfur comes in many forms. It was once thought that animal-based proteins were the primary source of sulfur, but we now know that it’s also found in a variety of plant-based foods and non-protein foods. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for methionine has been set at 14 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, or approximately 1000 milligrams per day. No RDA has been set for other forms of sulfur.
The sulfur-containing foods below have been shown to provide health benefits. However, some consumers have reported experiencing gastrointestinal discomfort, with cases resulting in ulcerative colitis from sulfates found in drinking water and some allium and cruciferous vegetables.
- Turkey, beef, eggs, fish, and chicken
Turkey, beef, eggs, fish, and chicken are animal-based sources of methionine, the essential amino acid that must be consumed through your diet since it cannot be synthesized by your body.
- Nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes
It is also possible to obtain methionine from a vegetarian diet. Nuts, seeds, grains and legumes are great plant-based sources of this amino acid.
- Chickpeas, couscous, eggs, lentils, oats, turkey and walnuts
Chickpeas, couscous, eggs, lentils, oats, turkey and walnuts are good sources of getting cysteine through your diet.
- Allium Vegetables
Other than proteins, allium vegetables are one of the main sources of dietary sulfur. This group of vegetables is rich in various forms of sulfur, including sulfides, thiosulfates, sulfoxides, vinyldthiins, and ajoenes. These vegetables include garlic, leeks, onions, scallions, and shallots and are associated with benefits in cardiovascular health, bone health, blood sugar control, and detoxification.
- Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables are another primary source of dietary sulfur. They provide it in a form known as glucosinolates. They are also high in fiber and are associated with a healthy diet. There have been claims that these vegetables help to reduce the risk of cancer, but unfortunately, clinical studies remain inconclusive so far. The cruciferous group of vegetables includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, arugula, kale, and radishes.
- Whole Grains
Whole grains are a good source of sulfur in the form of thiamin (vitamin B-1). Like the essential amino acid methionine, thiamine cannot be produced by your body and must be obtained from your diet.
- Leafy Green Vegetables
Leafy green vegetables provide sulfur in the form of biotin (vitamin H), which is involved in the formation of fatty acids. This lesser-known vitamin is also produced by intestinal bacteria.