‘An often overlooked major nutrient’: Review highlights importance of sulfur for human health

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / Ekaterina79
© Getty Images / Ekaterina79

Related tags Msm dietary recommendations

With health benefits linked to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, “it may be time to consider the research connecting sulfur to multiple aspects of human health in the development of minimal daily levels”, says a new review.

Sulfur is the third most abundant mineral in the human body, but has largely remained ignored or overlooked. There are currently no dietary recommendations for sulfur but there are recommendations for sulfur-containing amino acids such as methionine, cysteine, and taurine.

However, according to a new review by Dr Susan Hewlings (Central Michigan University) and Dr Doug Kalman (Nova Southeastern University), these recommendations may be grossly under-estimating the actual dietary need for sulfur. This is because these recommendations rely on “what might be considered inappropriate nitrogen balance studies as an indicator of ‘sulfur adequacy’,”​ they wrote in EC Nutrition​.

“It has recently been questioned as to whether or not dietary requirements of methionine are being met, which then raises the questions as to whether or not sulfur needs are being met through diet alone,” ​wrote Drs Hewlings and Kalman. “While most Western diets are adequate in methionine, in many parts of the world, including the U.S., the sulfur content of soil is inadequate, affecting other sources, namely glutathione and methionine. In addition to decreased levels in soils, diets that are predominantly vegan or vegetarian may also be low in methionine and therefore sulfur.

“It should be noted that intake does not have to be deficient to create physiological concerns. It has been suggested that even when intake is marginally sufficient, the sulfur is directed towards synthesis of proteins and other key metabolic intermediates that have critical roles in brain and organ function like GSH and S-Adenosyl Methionine (SAM),” ​they added.


The new review was compiled on behalf of Vancouver, WA-based Bergstrom Nutrition, which makes the OptiMSM brand of methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), which can provide sulfur.

“Beyond sulfur’s s long history of use for dermatological issues, two of its most important roles lie in the connective tissue and the liver,” ​commented Dr Kalman. “As an anti-inflammatory, sulfur has been connected to joint health and mobility, along with helping the body to regain homeostasis in reaction to oxidative stress as a major component of detoxification.”

“In the short term, adding MSM to the diet would be my recommendation for those looking to increase their sulfur intake,” ​added Dr Kalman. “But our long-term aim is to galvanize our community so that more research on sulfur confirms our instincts that a sulfur RDA is necessary.”

More research needed!

Drs Hewlings and Kalman concluded: “While currently there are no defined daily dietary requirements for sulfur, it may be time to consider the research connecting sulfur to multiple aspects of human health in the development of minimal daily levels needed to maintain health.

“This review paper calls for more research to be done surrounding the impacts of sulfur alone on human health and the lifecycle, and to establish a daily minimal intake that humans should aim for as part of healthy living.”

Source: EC Nutrition
14.9 (2019): 785-791.
“Sulfur in Human Health”
Authors: S. Hewlings & D. Kalman

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