The Paradoxical Roles of Sulfur in Human Physiology
• When the supply of sulfate in the body runs low, serious problems can result.
• Most dietary sulfur does not enter the body in a ready-to-use form but must be metabolized into sulfate.
• Some of the leading contributors to problems with sulfur metabolism include nutrient deficiencies and toxicants such as glyphosate.
• There is reason to believe that the positively charged lipid nanoparticles acting as carriers and adjuvants in mRNA injections also interfere with sulfate metabolism.
• It is possible to overwhelm sulfur pathways by consuming too much dietary sulfur.
• In response to the many modern roadblocks to sulfur metabolism, the body develops adaptive workarounds, including extracting sulfur from the mucus lining of the digestive tract, overgrowing sulfur-fixing bacteria in the gut and creating localized inflammation that facilitates generation of sulfate.
• People with sulfur metabolism issues often report moderate to significant improvements in their symptoms after two weeks on a low-sulfur diet.
Sulfur is one of the more underrated minerals in biology. Let’s start with the fact that sulfur is the third most abundant mineral in the human body.1 The amount of sulfur in the body is much greater than the amount of iron, with the average adult body containing about one hundred forty grams of sulfur versus less than three grams of iron.
The body puts dietary sulfur to many uses, one of the most important of which is the production of sulfate—one sulfur molecule joined to four oxygen molecules (SO4). The problem is that most of the sulfur coming into the body does not come in the form of sulfate, but in various other sulfur compounds. A significant portion of that sulfur has to be transformed into sulfate because our body constantly needs access to sulfate. There are various pathways the body uses to get to sulfate, and we need to have those pathways working all the time.
USES OF SULFATE
Why do we need sulfate? For one thing, all of our connective tissue is heavily sulfated. In order to build collagen and connective tissue that have integrity, you have to add heparan sulfate molecules to it. These are called heparan sulfate glycosaminoglycans or proteoglycans.
A major detoxifiction pathway in the liver requires sulfate, which makes toxins water-soluble so they can be excreted in the urine. The inflammatory response and immune cells are also constantly making use of sulfur compounds. Sulfation is involved in blood pressure regulation. Another sulfate role has to do with the regulation of hormones and neurotransmitters. Many hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, melatonin, and thyroid hormones, exist primarily in sulfated forms as they travel around the body. Attaching the sulfate molecule to the hormone is commonly understood as a means of inactivating that hormone. A better way of thinking about it is that the hormone delivers sulfate to their target cells. The sulfate is enzymatically removed, activating the hormone and supplying the cell with much-needed sulfate at the same time. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine are also sulfated, and the presence of these sulfate molecules is yet another way the body regulates their activity.
Sulfate is also involved in the production of mucin, the chief constituent of mucus. All of our mucus, which lubricates the epithelial cells, is heavily sulfated. We will return to this important point later.
Another, less well-known role of sulfate is that it supplies the negative charge needed for the formation of what is called structured, or “exclusion zone” (EZ), water. It was Dr. Gerald Pollock who first identified and recognized the significance of EZ water,2 and its importance is only now becoming fully understood within the context of human physiology and biochemistry.
EZ water forms when it encounters a negatively charged surface, and our body is filled with those charged surfaces. That negative charge is supplied by sulfur compounds in a very large way. Most cell surfaces, proteins and other structures within the body are negatively charged, and water forms an EZ layer when it encounters these surfaces. For decades, scientists have recognized the fact that water takes on unique properties when it abuts charged surfaces in the body. Pollack and others also refer to this as “interfacial water,”3 with its presence and purpose considered a mystery.
Stephanie Seneff and I (GN) published a paper in 2019 in the journal Water describing our ideas about how interfacial water forms, which is based on the critical role of heparan sulfate in structuring that water.2 The building and maintenance of that structured water is enormously important for physiology. If heparan sulfate cannot be produced as needed, this will have an impact on that negative charge getting distributed around the body the way it should, which will in turn affect the maintenance of structure in our cellular water.
As you can see, serious things happen when the supply of sulfate runs low.4
BLOCKS TO SULFUR METABOLISM
Why would our sulfate supply run low? There are three major reasons this happens. The first has to do with genetics. There is now an industry built around the interpretation of genetic polymorphisms (common variations in DNA sometimes referred to as “genetic typos”). Sophisticated computer algorithms can process hundreds of polymorphisms at a time, match them to relevant research and generate reports that recommend supplements, diets, lifestyle changes and more.
Regarding sulfur metabolism specifically, there are a few polymorphisms that seem to have a significant impact. In our experience, every person with even a single (heterozygous) glitch on the SUOX gene, which codes for the sulfite oxidase enzyme, has had clear symptoms of sulfur dysregulation. This enzyme requires the trace mineral molybdenum as a cofactor, which we will return to in more detail later.
The sulfation pathway is closely linked to the methylation cycle within cells. A number of genes and their polymorphisms have the potential to affect the flow of the methylation cycle and can, consequently, affect sulfation as a downstream effect. These include MTHFR, BHMT and several others. Clinically, we find that even if multiple methylation polymorphisms are in place, it is often the case that focusing specifically on sulfation can achieve dramatic benefits for patients.
A second potential contributor to problems with sulfur metabolism are dietary issues and nutrient deficiencies, the most important being a deficiency in molybdenum. Molybdenum is an essential nutrient for the processing of dietary sulfur and the generation of sulfate in the body. Even if people are eating organic, locally-grown food, they may very well be low in dietary molybdenum. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, the soil is depleted of molybdenum.
Magnesium, glutathione, vitamin B12 and other vitamins and minerals also play important roles in sulfate metabolism. They show up in various places in the pathways that convert dietary sulfur into the sulfur-containing compounds the body requires—sulfate being a main one. For those who are eating a nutrient-dense diet, deficiencies may not be a problem, but the Standard American Diet (SAD) is anything but nutrient-dense. As a consequence, sulfur metabolism is commonly compromised.
Finally, toxins (poisons or metabolic waste produced by cells) and toxicants (synthetic poisons in the environment) can disrupt sulfate pathways. Glyphosate—the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup—is a major toxicant that interferes with sulfur metabolism in many different ways.5 In fact, it is quite shocking how comprehensively glyphosate can wreck sulfur metabolism and sulfate generation. This involves suppression of critical enzyme function, depletion of necessary vitamins, chelation of essential mineral cofactors and much more.
In addition, heavy metals, organophosphates, organochlorides and many other pollutants affect our ability to manufacture sulfate from the sulfur in our food.
Another serious consideration regarding sulfate metabolism are the cationic lipid nanoparticles (CLNs)—with “cationic” meaning “positively charged”—acting as both carriers and adjuvants in the mRNA injections currently in use.6-10 CLNs initiate an inflammatory burst when the body encounters them. One of the reasons that these positively charged cationic lipids are favored as vaccine adjuvants is because they are drawn to the dense negative charge of the cell membrane. CLNs thus help get particles to the cell surface, where they bind to heparan sulfate. In doing so, their strong positive charge neutralizes some of the negative charge of heparan sulfate—and that will destructure the local water that depends on the negative charge of heparan sulfate for maintenance of the EZ. Thus, there is good reason to expect CLNs to be a nightmare for water structuring at both the surface and the interior of cells. The range of detrimental effects this could have is unknown, but likely quite extensive.
WHAT CAUSES TOO MUCH SULFUR IN THE BODY?
While of course we need sulfur in the diet, we can also overwhelm the sulfur pathways by simply consuming too much. The vegetables that are highest in sulfur are seasonal. Today, though, many people are eating kale and other sulfur-rich foods year-round. We believe that these dietary habits can overwhelm the capacity to move down the sulfur pathways, leading to a build-up of hydrogen sulfide and sulfite, especially in people who have one or more of the underlying issues described previously.
Common supplements will often add insult to injury. For example, in addition to dietary sulfur, many people also take garlic capsules, lipoic acid, NAC (N-acetylcysteine), MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) and other sulfur-containing supplements. While these can be beneficial for many people, someone with an underlying sulfur metabolism issue can feel worse taking them simply due to the sulfur. We had a patient who had taken high doses of lipoic acid for several years and felt miserable. She thought it was because she was “detoxing.” In fact, it was the sulfur that was the problem. Once her supplements were adjusted, she felt better than she had in years.
SYMPTOMS AS THERAPY
Naturopathic medicine embraces the idea that the body has an inherent intelligence that guides all activities through both health and disease. Still, when it comes to treatment, our therapies commonly focus on suppressing and/ or killing various bacteria found to be overgrowing in the gut. On the one hand, we say the body is intelligent, but on the other hand, we try to “fix” a problem because, well, the body did it wrong.
In the process of learning about sulfur and its metabolism, Stephanie Seneff is the one who helped orient me (GN) in a significant way toward understanding that everything the body does—from the buildup of plaque in the arteries to all kinds of inflammatory processes—is fundamentally adaptive. Even tumors can be seen as the body’s attempt to adapt to an underlying imbalance.
We believe, then, that virtually all symptoms can and should be viewed within a model of adaptation. That is not to say that every pathology is an adaptation—there is such a thing as a toxic exposure that initiates a pathological process. However, we underestimate the intelligence the body has in initiating what we think of as a pathology, when in fact, it may very well be an adaptive response.
Our modern world seems built to disrupt sulfur metabolism, creating many roadblocks to the body’s ability to generate sulfate. But the body has to have constant access to it—you will die if you cannot generate sulfate—so it only makes sense that the body is going to develop workarounds. One way or another, the body is going to figure out how to get sulfate.
Interestingly, a lot of the people that we see are suffering with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or some other kind of gastrointestinal (GI) problem, because that is one of the ways that sulfur issues show up. A common treatment approach under such circumstances is to kill the “pathogenic” bacteria that test as elevated and seem to be causing the symptoms. Stool tests will often find elevated Disulfovibrio or too much Campylobacter, and the strategy is to kill the bugs. The problem is that these “bugs” are what is known as “sulfur-fixing bacteria”— that is, they convert dietary sulfur into hydrogen sulfide and sulfite, and those compounds can be converted into sulfate when the normal pathway is impaired. Yes, they cause symptoms when in excess, but for the body, those symptoms are a small price to pay for access to sulfate.
In fact, the evidence is quite strong that simply killing the dysbiotic bacteria is not going to work as a long-term solution. It can provide short-term relief, but it is very common for patients to report that symptoms come back quickly once the therapy is stopped. This is true even when the patient is doing everything else “right”: the diet is optimal, supplements are appropriate and the lifestyle incorporates meditation, exercise or other beneficial measures. Patients experience considerable frustration when, in spite of all those efforts, their symptoms return. This didn’t make sense to us until the adaptation model became clear. From that perspective, of course they are going to come back; in other words, if access to sulfate hasn’t been restored, those bugs have to be there because they’re serving a purpose. Bringing them back is an intelligent solution for the body to put in place.
Growing sulfur-fixing bacteria is not, however, the first adaptation the body pursues once sulfate production starts running low. Rather, we believe adaptations unfold according to the sulfate demand. To put this in a very schematic way, first there is Plan A. This plan allows for quick access to the sulfur that is part of the mucus that lines our entire digestive tract. When we have a cold, the excess mucus becomes a great sulfur source. Specific bacteria—including E. coli, Akkermansia muciniphila, Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron, Bifidobacterium bifidum and others—produce an enzyme called mucinase. This enzyme degrades mucus, thinning it and allowing its sulfur to be extracted and converted to hydrogen sulfide, which when oxidized become sulfate.
It’s a brilliant strategy! Perhaps this is why chronic allergies, congestion and post-nasal drip commonly improve or disappear completely once proper sulfur metabolism is restored.
If you have to amp up production, then the body turns to Plan B— overgrowing sulfur-fixing bacteria in the digestive tract. These bacteria use the sulfur atom in respiration in much the same way that our own cells use oxygen, and just as our cells generate H20 as a product of respiration, the bacteria produce H2S (hydrogen sulfide). No one likes the symptoms of this overgrowth, but the hydrogen sulfide the bacteria produce can circulate systemically and thus fulfill a systemic sulfate need. This is why killing them off is often a losing strategy.
Chronic inflammation is the next level; call it Plan C. Inflammation plays a very important role in maintaining adequate sulfate in the body. In order to get from hydrogen sulfide to sulfate, that hydrogen sulfide has to be oxidized. The normal pathway takes care of that within the mitochondria, but if that pathway is blocked, you need an inflammatory environment elsewhere to do the trick.
Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is first oxidized to sulfur dioxide (SO2); an inflammatory environment will then directly oxidize SO2 up to SO3. Finally, the SO3 is converted by that SUOX enzyme we mentioned earlier into sulfate, SO4. A local inflammatory environment can be the critical step that allows this series of transformations to move forward.
Another published paper co-authored with Stephanie Seneff posits the model of gout serving as a local inflammatory process that generates hydrogen sulfide and other critical sulfur compounds locally in order to feed the local tissue with what’s needed.11 That chronic inflammatory process can be a way to make sure that the environment is present to get the sulfate generated. Once the need is met, the inflammation can subside. Gout attacks are typically self-limiting, which has been a mystery from a conventional perspective but makes sense viewed as an inflammatory adaptation to meet a need.
Hydrogen sulfide is a gas, and if you look up any of the inflammatory bowel issues, they all have excess hydrogen sulfide associated with them. It is also a gasotransmitter (a gaseous signaling molecule),12 having a wide range of important regulatory roles throughout the body. In excess, it not only causes inflammation and sometimes severe bloating, but it will also diffuse easily into the blood.
TUMORS AS THERAPY
As posited by Stephanie Seneff, it has been intriguing to look more deeply into the idea that malignant tumors may have a role to play in sulfur/sulfate production and balance in the body. We’ve all heard that everybody has cancer cells appear throughout our lives, but the vast majority of these never develop into tumors. There is an intriguing body of literature documenting the fact that—much more commonly than we realize—stage I and even stage II cancers arise and go away without our even knowing about them.
If we think about this situation from an adaptation perspective, we must ask, what is the tumor up to? Well, over a dozen genes involved in the production of sulfur compounds are dramatically upregulated in cancer cells. These cells are like factories that produce heparan sulfate in high amounts and export it to the cell exterior, mostly carried by compounds called glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). Cancer cells also produce and export an enzyme called heparinase. Outside the cell, this enzyme breaks the heparan sulfate away from the GAGs, freeing it up to feed sulfate to the surrounding cells and tissue.
If that mission is accomplished and adequate sulfate is supplied, that factory can close down. Suppose, though, that a small factory just isn’t generating enough sulfate to quench the need. In that case, you need a larger factory. And if the need continues or even increases, maybe some satellite factories are needed as well.
This possible Plan D is, of course, theoretical—we don’t know for sure what is going on, and it surely doesn’t account for all occurrences of cancer. But this adaptation model allows for yet another way to consider underlying causes for any given individual with a cancer diagnosis, and it also opens up new possibilities for treatment.
The clinical approach to addressing sulfur metabolism issues has to start with a thorough evaluation to get the best understanding possible of each individual’s symptoms. Bloating and often (but not always) gas are perhaps the symptoms we see most commonly. The large majority will report that the bloating is clearly related to eating. Many know the foods that cause the worst problems, but many more report that “anything I eat makes me bloat.”
The significant minority of patients who report that they are bloating all the time are the people we suspect have the most serious need for sulfate. Bacteria are generating the mucinase enzyme around the clock, making sure that the supply of sulfur to the gut bacteria never stops. For these people, fenugreek seed powder, oregano, ginger and other herbs will help to inhibit that enzyme and often bring about significant symptomatic relief. Note that symptomatic relief is not a curative therapy, but it can help to buy some time while the person more completely assesses and addresses the underlying imbalances or impairments that are driving the need for that sulfur in the first place.
In our clinical practice, our primary focus is on naturopathic oncology, but our writing, speaking and research into sulfur metabolism have attracted a large number of patients to our clinic who have SIBO or other chronic GI symptoms. I (GN) have never done any formal training or attended any conferences on how to treat SIBO or other GI issues. I just assess and, when indicated, treat sulfur metabolism. The assessment is almost exclusively clinical; I rarely order stool tests or breath tests, and in fact find that they can bring more confusion than clarity. If a patient has all the symptoms of a sulfur issue, there are no test results that would convince me not to have that patient do our low-sulfur protocol (see next section) and see what does or doesn’t change about those symptoms.
While I do not often order tests for GI assessment, I run labs on every patient. I find it extremely helpful to check nutrient status, iron status, thyroid hormone levels and inflammation markers such as hs-CRP (high-sensitivity C-reactive protein) and fibrinogen (a plasma protein produced in the liver). Nutrients can be checked either through direct testing of vitamins and minerals, or through indirect measures such as homocysteine or the many indirect indicators that appear on a standard health panel that includes a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP), complete blood count (CBC) and lipid panel. This is the information that allows me to bring in the right types of supplementation and supportive therapies that optimize the sulfur treatment outcome.
LOW SULFUR DIET BENEFITS
A very common question is: “Isn’t there a test we can run to see if I have a sulfur problem?” Unfortunately, we don’t think such a test exists. In our view, the fully supported low-sulfur protocol that we developed is the test.
A short-term low-sulfur diet is the primary strategy we use to accomplish our therapeutic goals of reducing sulfur and supporting its metabolism, bringing in sulfate, enhancing negative charge, hydrating and addressing autonomic issues. This short-term diet, which serves both diagnostic and detoxifying purposes, involves eliminating acutely reactive sulfur foods and reducing the total sulfur load. For most people we work with, the elimination period is relatively short—only two weeks. At the end of two weeks of dietary restrictions, the reintroduction process begins. This is where the gold really is. Reintroductions are where we can start to differentiate acute reactions from general slow sulfur metabolism.
It can help to have a visual representation. Here is one that patients often find useful. Think of a bucket that is supposed to stay half full of sulfur compounds (sulfate and others). Our dietary intake is the spigot fill ing the bucket. The drain out the bottom of that bucket—the one that needs to be emptying it out at a rate that stays in pretty close balance with the spigot that fills it—is the SUOX enzyme.
That bucket represents the crux of the treatment process: slow the inflow for a period of time with a reduction in dietary sulfur, and speed the outflow by optimizing SUOX activity.
The results of the protocol vary widely. Some people report no change (other than being annoyed that they had to do this protocol for two weeks). More commonly, however, people report moderate to significant improvement. Occasionally, the results are astounding; lifelong severe GI symptoms, dermatitis, headaches or unrelenting menopausal hot flashes sometimes disappear completely. Even now, almost a decade into working with this sulfur thing, it is still amazing to see those changes happen.
It is worth noting that typically within the first five to seven days of the protocol, and only for a minority of patients, there is something we have come to call the “sulfur dump.” This is an exacerbation of whatever symptoms the person presented with. For example, dermatitis may get worse, or fatigue might get more extreme or hot flashes may increase. Our irritating advice in these cases is, “Stick with it”! Almost without exception, and usually within a week, the day comes when the cloud lifts and those patients begin to feel dramatically better than they have in perhaps years.
There are two kinds of issues related to dietary sulfur: quick reactions that represent intolerances for specific forms of dietary sulfur, and slow reactions that develop gradually after ongoing intake of sulfur foods. Garlic, in spite of all its health benefits, is, in our experience, the most reactive of sulfur foods. Kale and eggs are two others that commonly provoke a significant return of symptoms upon reintroduction. But even if no specific foods are found to be reactive, people often feel better at the end of two weeks on the protocol.
A common question at the end of the process is, “Will I ever be able to eat garlic again?” The answer is “Yes, probably, but in smaller amounts than you were eating it before.” Once we understand the balance between the short-term reactive sulfur foods and the long-term sulfur-processing capacity, Maria helps people find the longer-term dietary balance between sulfur intake and sulfur metabolism support. The majority of of our patients are able to bring most sulfur-dense foods back into their diet so long as they maintain some ongoing sulfur support.
After sulfur foods are brought back into the diet, it is not uncommon for symptoms to creep back in gradually after a few months. These are people whose bucket gradually fills and spills, and who would do well to repeat the low-sulfur protocol on perhaps a quarterly basis—amounting to a periodic “sulfur reset.”
HOW TO REMOVE SULFUR FROM IN THE BODY
Additional therapies that support the low-sulfur dietary guidelines can vary significantly from patient to patient, but there are some elements of the protocol that are pretty universal. Keep in mind that the ultimate goal is to restore the body’s access to an ample amount of sulfate, so the supporting therapies should work on all aspects of physiology that help to bring that about.
The most important nutrient to keep replenished is molybdenum, which has the chemical symbol Mo. Many multivitamins have this micronutrient, and it is sold as a stand-alone nutrient by many companies as well. (There is one particular form of this nutrient that we have found to work better than any other, Mo-Zyme Forte by Biotics; we have no financial ties to Biotics but simply have found that product to be excellent.) The standard starting dose is to chew up one tablet twice daily with food. It tastes a bit “earthy” but seems to work better when ingested through chewing.
It is important to keep in mind that dietary (and supplemental) molybdenum will compete with copper for absorption. Copper is essential for energy production, immune function and much else. Beef liver is the highest dietary source of copper, and other organ meats are also very good sources. Seafood contains high copper as well. Supplemental copper should only be in a food-based product. (With our patients, we recommend Cu Zyme by Biotics, which is grown on a vegetable culture and contains supporting antioxidant enzymes as well.)
Besides being a cofactor in the SUOX enzyme that converts sulfite to sulfate, Mo is also a cofactor in an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). That enzyme is not only essential for the detoxification of alcohol, but also for detoxifying aldehydes produced by Candida that is often overgrowing. For this reason, a history of yeast infections, or test results showing yeast overgrowth in the gut, or a sensitivity to alcohol are additional pieces of evidence pointing to a possible underlying sulfur issue.
Other common supporting supplements include butyrate, vitamin B12 (in the form of hydroxocobalamin) and chlorine dioxide, to name just a few. Butyrate is a fantastic anti-inflammatory for the digestive tract. The highest dietary source of butyrate is butter, and grass-fed butter in particular.
Hydroxocobalamin is the form of B12 that will oxidize hydrogen sulfide in the blood and thus help to reduce symptoms of that excess. Injections with this form of B12 are often helpful as well.
Chlorine dioxide is relatively new to our practice but is quickly becoming a central therapy. It will oxidize various noxious sulfur compounds that can be produced by a dysbiotic bowel, including hydrogen sulfide. It should only be implemented with the guidance of someone trained in its implementation and use.
A final product we’ll mention here is ION Biome, a humic acid extract developed by Dr. Zach Bush. He has done some excellent research showing how ION Biome restores the integrity of the gap junctions and connective tissue that both work to maintain the impermeability of the intestinal lining.
In addition to speeding up SUOX and reducing hydrogen sulfide with various nutrients, we also need to supply sulfate in a way that doesn’t feed the hungry sulfur-fixing bugs in the gut. A great way to do this is through Epsom salt baths. A study on healthy subjects found that soaking in a bath with lots of Epsom salt dissolved in it will raise blood levels of both magnesium and sulfate.13 What’s more, doing this nightly through a series of baths will raise sulfate up to a “saturation” level. The protocol we use is as follows:
- The first night, start with one cup of Epsom salt dissolved in a hot bath; soak at least twenty minutes, then rinse and go to bed.
- The following night, use two cups.
- The next night, use three cups.
- The next night, use four cups.
- Continue for three more nights, using four cups each night, completing a series of seven nights in a row.
- After that, continue with these baths at least three nights a week until coached otherwise.
It has been astonishing how many people have reported a dramatic improvement in their digestive symptoms upon starting these baths. What we think is happening is this: once sulfate is supplied systemically as it is with these baths, the bugs in the gut are no longer needed. This is the essence of the adaptation model. In short, there is no need to kill the bugs off; just make them unnecessary, and they will go away on their own. They were just there to do you a favor.
For those who experience significant benefits from doing the low-sulfur protocol, the full reintroduction of foods and the ongoing support needed to sustain those benefits is typically highly individualized. It isn’t possible to give general suggestions for how to sustain the benefits while bringing sulfur back into the dietary rotation. What can be said, though, is that continuing supporting supplements and Epsom salt baths, at least periodically, seems to allow the most sensitive individuals to tolerate dietary sulfur better.
No discussion of restoring optimal metabolism would be complete without a comment about the balance of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). This is the aspect of the nervous system that regulates those things that we don’t have to think about: heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, secretion of digestive juices, gut motility and much more.
The ANS is divided into sympathetic (“fight or flight”) and parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) aspects. When one of those is activated, the other is suppressed, and an imbalance can result. Even the best treatment plan—with the right probiotics, diet, supplements and so forth—is not going to work if the imbalance in the ANS is not attended to.
In the modern world, sympathetic activation is unfortunately the new normal. Sympathetic activation causes a suppression of the parasympathetic signals needed to orchestrate the digestive processes, largely via the vagus nerve. Fortunately, there are many ways to increase parasympathetic tone. Many of them are things we already know to be good for us: meditation, walks in nature, exercise and deep breathing, to name just a handful. Additional and more targeted therapies that we use with our patients include the Safe & Sound Protocol (SSP)15 and the Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS),16 both of which can bring about dramatic changes in symptom management. In fact, unless the ANS is brought into the treatment plan as a central component, the probability of long-term success drops dramatically.
Sulfur sensitivity is perhaps the proverbial elephant in the living room when it comes to a wide range of chronic and difficult-to-treat symptoms. Some symptoms we commonly see are resolved by working on sulfur metabolism include brain fog, anxiety and panic attacks; low blood pressure and chronically slow heart rate; hot flashes (menopausal or otherwise); eczema, dermatitis, acne and other skin symptoms such as itchiness or excess heat; headaches, including migraines; and, of course, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation and other digestive issues. We continue to be pleasantly surprised when someone reports yet another symptom that has been resolved through this treatment process.
After two decades of clinical practice, I (GN) can say that the low-sulfur protocol is the most clinically effective therapy I’ve ever implemented with patients. Prior to doing this kind of work, Maria and I would see ulcerative colitis, for example, as something that would take months or even a year of gut rehabilitation to get under control. With the low-sulfur protocol, we have seen this and other inflammatory bowel conditions resolved completely within the span of two weeks or even less. While it may seem counterintuitive to eliminate so many seemingly healthy foods initially, the long-term benefit is that many people are able to access the restorative power of dietary sulfur.
THE TWO-WEEK LOW-SULFUR DIET
HIGH SULFUR FOODS TO AVOID:
Allium vegetables such as garlic, onions, leeks and chives; cruciferous vegetables like kale and cabbage; legumes; most dairy; eggs; red meat; fermented foods; all grains except rice and all nuts except chestnuts; beverages like coffee and alcohol.
LIST OF LOW SULFUR FOODS:
Dark meat from chicken, turkey or duck; liver and organ meats; fatty fish; butter, ghee and olive oil; lower-sulfur vegetables; sweet potatoes and potatoes; rice; chestnuts; most fruits; herbal tea.
THERAPIES FOR THE AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM
EARTHING OR GROUNDING: This is an important therapy for activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. It is as simple as standing on the earth with bare feet touching the ground. This allows the negatively charged electrons that the earth has in excess to flow into the body. It is interesting to note that it is negative charge, carried by electrons associated with heparan sulfate, that allows for the structuring of water in and around cells. Perhaps there is a closer relationship between the maintenance of structured water in the body and the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system than is currently realized.
TEPID OR COLD SHOWERS: Temperature contrast will activate parasympathetic activity if it is not done to an
extreme. We commonly recommend that patients end their shower with cool water for thirty seconds. Over time,
the temperature of this cool rinse can be decreased until it is a completely cold shower. Almost everyone dreads the thought of this therapy before beginning it, and almost everyone reports feeling completely invigorated by it once they have started. Studies show that it helps the body regulate the sympathetic-parasympathetic balance.
CASTOR OIL: Castor oil is a detoxification procedure we recommend for many people. While a flannel “castor oil
pack” can be applied, it can also be as simple as massaging castor oil into the skin over the liver at bedtime. (Put on an old t-shirt so the sheets don’t get stained.) It will be mostly absorbed into the skin by morning.
SAFE & SOUND PROTOCOL (SSP): The Safe & Sound Protocol is a listening program designed to access the vagus nerves, improve vagal tone and promote optimal function.
DYNAMIC NEURAL RETRAINING SYSTEM (DNRS): This self-directed program uses the principles of neuroplasticity to regulate the maladapted stress response associated with many chronic illnesses, “rewiring” the limbic system
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This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2022🖨️ Print post
Susan O'Neil says
thanks for writing this article, this information was not available when I was my sickest….although the use of sulfur in various products has been widely used, I was not aware until now why I did develop symptoms of sulfur deficiency.
I recently learned that epsom salts (magnesium) is readily absorbed intot he body via water however, it also transports any nasties in the water with it. Pink salt and boron help to expel toxins from the body and therefore, are more favorable for use in baths. I would love to hear your take on this? Thank you, Nic 🙂
Isn’t chlorine dioxide bleach? Wondering how this is used to help a dysbiotic bowel.