The mineral sulfur has been used medicinally for more than 2,000 years. In
The Odyssey, Homer describes burning sulfur to purify the air. This same
practice was used during times of plague in Europe to disinfect contaminated
areas. It is a constituent of the amino acids cystine, cysteine, and methionine,
present in all cells of the body. It is considered nontoxic as any excess not
used by the body is excreted in the urine and feces. Recognized as a
"macromineral," it is found in significant amounts (>5 g) in the body. About
0.25% of our body weight is sulfur. It is most prevalent in the keratin of skin,
hair, and nails. It also is found as a component of the anticoagulant heparin,
and as chondroitin sulfate found in healthy bones and cartilage. Known as
"nature's beauty mineral" it is fundamental for the synthesis of collagen, which
keeps the skin elastic and young-looking. Today, it is primarily used as a
treatment for skin ailments such as eczema and other itchy skin conditions. It
also aids oxidation reactions and protects the body against toxins which are
increasingly present in our environment.
Arthritis sufferers flock to therapeutic sulfur hot springs to benefit from
their pain-reducing effect, whether it be solely through the sulfur content, or
through some action of other minerals. A 1992 Russian study determined that
sulfur baths significantly lowered the pain sensitivity of patients with
rheumatic diseases. An early study determined that taking sulfur baths raises
the body's blood level of sulfur, in effect acting as a supplement, while other
research indicates that sulfur is a desensitizing agent for the pain and
discomfort experienced by cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy. Recent
research suggests the reported beneficial effects of garlic (such as lowering
cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar) are at least partly due to the
sulfur it contains.
Because sulfur is a constituent of the amino acids cystine, cysteine, and
methionine, it is found in protein-rich foods such as meat, organ meats,
poultry, fish, eggs, cooked dried beans and peas, and milk and milk products.
Other good sources include garlic, onions, brussels sprouts, asparagus, kale,
and wheat germ.
Sulfur in its elemental form is a mineral found in rock beside hot springs
and volcanic craters. It is found sparsely in elemental form, but is widely seen
combined with other metals. The sulfur used in homeopathic treatment is a
yellow-green powder extracted from the mineral. The characteristic "rotten egg"
smell is caused from sulfur dioxide gas.
Supplementation with sulfur is usually not necessary because most people get
the required amount from dietary protein, but certain commercial preparations
are available. To ease skin rashes, ointments, creams, lotions, and dusting
powders containing sulfur as the active ingredient are available. Organic sulfur
in the form of MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) is available as a dietary supplement
in tablets and capsules.
- Used to ease the red, itchy rash of eczema, candidiasis, dry scalp,
diaper rash, hemorrhoids, and similar conditions
- Aids in digestive disorders, especially regurgitation of food,
indigestion made worse by milk, and chronic diarrhea and vomiting in the
- To help gynecological complaints such as PMS and menopausal
- To ease the symptoms of rheumatism, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid
- Can help acne; used as a topical antiseptic similar to benzoyl
peroxide, but not as potent or irritating to the skin
- May aid mental stress such as depression, irritability,
forgetfulness, disturbed sleep
- Good for eye health
- Can help treat offensive body odors
- Reported to reduce reaction to radiation therapy used in cancer
|Dosage Ranges and Duration of
There is no specific RDA established for sulfur. It is thought that
approximately 850 mg/day is needed, considering the daily turnover of sulfur in
For arthritis patients, 500 to 1,000 mg/day is the pharmacologic dosage
No toxicity symptoms have been reported for elemental sulfur specifically
since all excesses are excreted. However, some people are highly allergic to
relatives of sulfur such as sulfites and sulfa drugs. Sulfites,
sulfur-containing food preservatives, can trigger asthma and other allergic
reactions in susceptible individuals. The major side effect of sulfa drugs is
hypoglycemia, although other reactions include skin rashes, headache, fever,
fatigue, and gastric distress. Sulfur-sensitive patients should avoid these
- Regarding sulfa drugs: Do not use during long-term corticosteroid use
- Persons who are allergic to various sulfur containing compounds such
as sulfites, sulfates, and sulfa drugs should probably avoid sulfur supplements
as a precaution.
- Use sulfa drugs with caution in those who are elderly, alcoholic, or
have impaired kidney or liver function.
No clinically significant interactions between sulfur and conventional
medications are known to have been reported in the literature to
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CommunicationsThis publication contains
information relating to general principles
of medical care that should not in any event be construed as specific
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