Fuming about Sulfur — Not a Leg to Stand On

Chris Masterjohn’s posting “Does Meat Really Leach Calcium From the Bones?” is “must reading” for anyone who believes in the bone-building benefits of vegetarian or plant-based diets. I’d like to add some information about sulfur to the discussion. Sulfur, after all, is widely considered to be the evil element found in eggs, meat and animal products that leads to calcium loss, osteopenia and osteoporosis.

Over the years, one study is cited repeatedly. (Breslau NA et al. Relationship of animal protein-rich diet to kidney stone formation and calcium metabolism. J Clin Endocrinol Metabol, 1988, 66, 140-146). It involved 15 healthy young people divided into three groups. All three groups ate foods that contained identical amounts of sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and protein, but differing amounts of sulfur. The first group (least sulfur) consumed soy products; the second (moderate sulfur) consumed soy milk, TSP, cheese and eggs; and the third (most sulfur) animal protein from meat and cheese. The aseemingly larming result was that those who got their protein from the animal products lost a whopping 50 percent more calcium from their bodies than did those who ate only soy protein. The soy, egg and dairy folks were in the middle. The researchers concluded, “the inability to compensate for the animal protein-induced calciuric response {meaning calcium in the urine] may be a risk factor for the development of osteoporosis.” The conclusion trumpeted round the vegan world was that everyone who wants good bones should eat a plant-based diet, preferably high in soybeans.

Although this study appears to be bad news to the WAPF cause, the bottom line is that the 15 subjects spent a grand total of 12 days testing each type of food. Just enough time for their bodies to react to unexpectedly highly levels of sulfur proteins, but not enough time for their bodies to normalize and handle the sulfur load. Normally, calcium homeostasis is well regulated so that increased calcium loss through the urine results in increased calcium absorption from the gut. This adaptive process may fail to occur during short-term studies, but the human body is more than capable of adjusting to the sulfur load of real food, given a proper time frame.

The fallacy of most other studies linking sulfur-rich animal foods to high calcium excretion is equally easy to find. The majority of such experiments feature overdoses of the isolated amino acids methionine, cysteine and cystine without providing adequate levels of vitamin B6 and the extra hyrochloric acid needed to process this high amino acid load. Notably, people and animals fed real food have not experienced the same problems. Clearly cutting back on sulfur-rich foods is not the solution to osteoporosis.

Another fact to consider is that sulfur is not a problem provided our levels of vitamin B6 are adequate. Pyridoxal-5-phosphate (the most active form of vitamin B6) is the coenzyme for cystathionine synthetase, the enzyme needed for proper conversion of sulfur-containing amino acids. Vitamin B6 is in short supply in most American diets as it’s best attained through raw animal proteins. The obvious solution is to optimize Vitamin B6 levels, not to cut back on foods containing sulfur. Those who do cut back on sulfur sooner or later end up deficient in both sulfur and the sulfur-containing amino acids methionine, cysteine/cystine and taurine. That in turn can lead to pill popping supplements like MSM (methylsulfonylmethane), SAME-e (s-denosyl methionine) and NAC (n-acetyl cysteine). Taurine supplements are often needed by people short on animal protein, and it’s a familiar ingredient in most detox, blood pressure, blood sugar, immune, vision and fat metabolism formulas.

Sulfur has long been known as the “beauty mineral.” Humans who boast beautiful, moist skin and thick, shiny hair live on sulfur-rich diets. It’s sulfur that provides the cross links that make the elastin and collagen of our skin strong, flexible and youthful. But the beauty provided by methionine and cysteine is more than skin deep. These sulfur aminos optimize immune system function and the body’s ability to produce glutathione Cysteine is also one of the three amino acids comprising glutathione, one of the most important anti-oxidants found in the body. Glutathione (gamma-glutamyl cysteinyl-glycine) protects cells by detoxifying harmful compounds such as hydrogen peroxide, free radicals and carcinogens. It’s partly responsible for keeping LDL-cholesterol from oxidizing and clogging arteries.

Finally, sulfur is hot stuff – an essential component in gunpowder, matches, and the Calvin Klein fragrance, Eggstacy . . . er Ecstasy.

Kaayla T. Daniel, PhD, CCN, is The Naughty NutritionistTM because of her ability to outrageously and humorously debunk nutritional myths. A popular guest on radio and television, she has appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, ABC's View from the Bay, NPR's People's Pharmacy and numerous other shows. Her own radio show, "Naughty Nutrition with Dr. Kaayla Daniel," launches April 2011 on World of Women Radio. Dr. Daniel is the author of The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America's Favorite Health Food, a popular speaker at Wise Traditions and other conferences, and recipient of its 2005 Integrity in Science Award. Her website is www.naughtynutritionist.com and she can be reached at Kaayla@DrKaaylaDaniel.com.

7 Responses to Fuming about Sulfur — Not a Leg to Stand On

  1. Andrea says:

    Dear Kaayla,

    I am currently reading your book, The Whole Soy Story. A question came to mind while I was reading, when I noticed that you mentioned that kidney beans have similar anti-nutrients. Do all legumes have anti-nutrients? If you wrote a book about pinto beans, for example, would it have as many “problems” as soybeans? Do you think that legumes are meant for human consumption or just for helping nitrogen get back into the soil?

    Thanks for your time.

    • whisperingsage says:

      Kaayla has had 5 years to repond and hasn’t so I hope it won’t be rude for me to interject here.

      All grains have SOME antinutrients- some of these are to keep the grain dormant till ideal sprouting conditions are met- like the phytic acid. If you get a copy of Sally Fallons wonderful Nourishing Traditions you will see that in history people have soaked and sprouted grains and beans for hours or days to deactivate phytic acid and then cooked the soup out of them for digestability- all to miic what a ruminant does with its 4 stomach chambers. Soy however, may have already had an extra problem goping on that researchers didn’t factor for- GMO. Were they Round Up Ready? I didn’t see any of the studies making a distinction. When I looked up “GMO soy rats” originally, at least 5 years ago, the researchers admitted to not being abl;e to find any sources that were 100% GMO free so they did the best they could, they used the least GMO modified soy they could get for the control. Those were the days when we were hearing 80% -90% of soy was GMO. Now, it has contamonated so many non GMO spources just because of the nature of pollination, I would hazard a guess that we probably can’t find any truly organic soy anymore. And GMO does some terrible things. (If you didn’t look it up, in a nutshell- 50% infant pup mortality, unthriftiness, poor coats, weak and poor growth, infertility in offspring)
      So all bets are off with soy. Other stuff stick with organic, and grow your own whenever possible. And soak and ferment like Nourishing Traditions discusses.
      I had a personal stake in working with soy- I raise milk goats, rabbits and chickens. The dairy trade magazine “Hoard’s Dairyman” had lots of ads and articles promoting soy as a “bypass protein”. I tried it on my few animals- goats had estrogen signs- miscarriages, infertility, false labor, preemies. They also had trypsin inhibitor and phytic acid signs- binding of protein and minerals- enlarged knees on adults, rickets symptoms in offspring, poor development, poor hoof growth, rheamy eyes, dandruff, slow growth, stuntedness, I had to cull all the kids from those groups. Soy just did not deliver, the ads were all lies. Then I read the Ploy of Soy and faced the facts. Swore off soy. Mind you, I only used it as a supplement to their alfalfa hay and kelp meal, the rabbits went completely infertile. I had to start all over with a new rabbit herd. The old herd died of old age. The chickens fared the best of all because birds have 105 body temps, that means a lot of enzyme activity, they can metabolize a lot of things that would be toxic to the rest of us. Their enzymes can split a lot of things. All I had wrong was out of 25 birds, one hen began to crow, (high estrogen, don’t know why it would do that, but there it is) and one got an egg lost in her abdominal cavity. I supplement all the animals with rice bran now, and though it still has phytic acid, they just do very well on it,. But also I have incresed their vitamins in water electrolytes, especially in winter when we are D deficient.

  2. Lynn Parks says:

    Great article, Kaayla, thanks for writing it. I ran into a man yesterday who was outside a Trader Joe’s store asking people to sign petitions and get registered to vote. He didn’t look so good. As it so often happens with me, the conversation turned to real food (I think I asked him if he had any petitions for cleaning up the food supply). He said something along the lines of “he found his ultimate health food and it’s sold right there in Trader Joe’s. Soy. Soy in pill form…just a couple of pills a day and all your ails would be cured”. Of course, I know this isn’t the case and when he said soy had all the proteins anyone needed and had all 22 amino acids and would cure the world I had to disagree. I tried to point him to some other more accurate information than what he’d obviously been spoon fed but he was adamant…soy was the answer. I that vegans and/or soy proponents are very militant in their beliefs (I guess I am too, but I’m right…LOL). This poor man had open sores on his face and looked like they’d been there awhile and his teeth were awful (think meth user). But there was nothing I could say that would convince him that soy wasn’t the answer.

  3. STG says:

    The study mentioned is very weak since the study population consisted of only 15 people. Silly!

    Check out Scientific American (MARCH 2010) Rui Wang. Toxic Gas Lifesaver, p.67-71. This article discusses the importance of Hydrogen Sulfide in regulating many metabolic processes. This may have dietary implications?

  4. Kaayla Daniel says:

    Dear Andrea, My understanding is that soybeans not only have more antinutrients and toxins than other beans but they are more resistant to neutralization by cooking and other normal means of processing. The other problem is that some people are eating soy products several times a day, even breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. A lot of the studies on lectins were done on kidney beans so I know they can be a problem. I haven’t run into studies on other beans. My recommendation is to eat a variety of beans, to rotate them, prepare them properly and not to go overboard. They can be nutritious in the context of a varied diet.

  5. Gibbs says:

    Ok, so the logical next step would be to run this study again, only this time for longer than 12 days. Why hasn’t anyone done this?

  6. Kaayla Daniel says:

    Dear Andrea, All legumes contain antinutrients and phytoestrogens. Most of the studies have been done on soy though a fair number have also been done on kidney beans and fava beans. My policy is to enjoy beans but to vary the type. Soak and cook properly, of course. I also like to cook them with Ayurvedic spices, which I think iimprove digestibility.
    Far as I know, none of the ready-to-eat canned beans in the stores have been properly prepared. Worst of all, the organic brands aren’t even cooked long enough. They are al dente with pretty color. Virtually indigestible that way.
    Among the legumes, soy is the biggest problem by far because it’s now processed into so many different types of foods. Some people eat soy morning, noon, night and snacks. As a New Mexican, I also know some people who enjoy Mexican cuisine with pinto beans. I don’t have any science indicating pinto beans are a special problem, but the cautionary principle tells me that variety is a better policy. Kaayla

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