Genetics, sensitivity & foods with sulfur

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Iíve come to understand that not everyone is alike in regards to the type of foods they can eat and stay healthy. For that matter, I donít think we can put every food item into a category of good or bad. It all depends.

Sulfur, the third most abundant mineral in our body, is vital to our health. Though often forgotten, it is used for insulin production, building breathable cell walls that can balance cell pressure, and helps keep our arteries and veins from hardening. Too little is not good, and having too much can be problematic.

One way we get sulfur is from fresh fruits and vegetables in the form of a molecule called Methyl-sulfonyl-methane, or MSM. It is also found in garlic. Food storage, shipping, processing, preparation, and cooking will degrade MSM.

Sulfur is often derived from our drinking water. We can also get this important mineral from high-protein foods like grass-fed meat, eggs, and wild caught salmon. Too often we just donít get enough from diet alone.

This can lead to problems as sulfur is a critical mineral in creating new cells and connective tissue. It influences how well our body can absorb nutrients into each cell. Sulfur also supports our bodies detoxification process and elimination of free radicals.

Some articles Iím seeing are indicating an association between low sulfur and foggy mind, concentration problems, poor memory, and Alzheimerís disease. It is also being discussed as a contributor to heart disease.

Indications of sulfur deficiency can include sore muscles and joint pain, as well as wrinkles. This is because our flexible cartilage and connective tissues contain sulfur. Hair and nails, more sturdy than skin, also contain a large share of sulfur.

Some people can have too much sulfur in their body. And genetics plays a role in just how much sulfur we accumulate.

This is where it gets interesting. Our body uses sulfur to produce one of the most important antioxidants called glutathione. This becomes our natural detoxifier. Without sulfur, glutathione is not effective.

But some people simply cannot tolerate sulfur in large quantities. Their symptoms may include hives, itchiness, asthma, headaches, nausea, fatigue, and brain fog.

Sulfur sensitivity can be caused by heavy metal toxicity and a genetic mutation in an enzyme called CBS, or cystathione beta-synthase. This mutation would speed up how sulfur is recycled in your body and lead to an increase in taurine and the release of ammonia as a byproduct.

Ammonia is normally excreted through our urine. If you have gene mutations that makes it hard for you to metabolize and eliminate ammonia, then it becomes even more challenging. Because sulfites have an affinity to heavy metals, these toxins can get drawn into your blood stream by the sulfur and really cause you to feel lousy.

While most people need sulfur as a healthy part of their diet, others may just find this causes problems.

If you have a sensitivity to sulfur you would want to avoid foods with sulfides, or compounds called thiols. This includes the sources I already mentioned, as well as wine, nuts, onions, coconut milk, and dairy. Limiting your protein to less than 10 percent of diet may be helpful.

Youíll also want to watch what supplements you are taking and avoid food additives that sound like the word sulfite. Donít take supplements at this time that will increase glutathione production. Taking other nutrients though may be necessary as excess sulfites can deplete some.

Keep in mind maintaining gut health is, as always, an important consideration as this can reduce the amount of ammonia producing microorganisms. Glutamine and magnesium can also be of help to protect your brain. Come on down and letís talk more.

Scott Porter, a functional medicine pharmacist, is the director of the Center for Functional Nutrition at Sandpoint Super Drug.

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