Sulfur belongs to which family
Sulfur - for metabolism and detoxification
The mineral sulfur is one of the most important nutrients and is essential for humans. The ancient Greeks already knew sulfur as a disinfectant to prevent infectious diseases. As a component of several amino acids, it is involved in many metabolic processes. Since the human organism cannot produce it itself, sulfur has to be made available through the ingestion of food.
What is sulfur
Sulfur is a chemical element and one of the non-metals. If it is burned in the air, it shows a blue flame and sulfur dioxide is produced. This sulphurous acid is used in the food industry as an antioxidant and preservative.
Sulfur is used in the chemical industry for the production of e.g. dyes, artificial fertilizers or insecticides. As a pharmaceutical product, it is known as a laxative or is used to treat skin conditions such as acne.
Pure sulfur is not toxic to humans, as it passes through the intestines undigested and is excreted again in this way. In this form, however, it is rarely found in the body or in nature; it is usually bound to water or oxygen. Sulfur is absorbed by plants through the roots as sulfate ions, these are then decimated to sulfite and then used to create organic sulfur compounds.
An organic sulfur compound is MSM (methylsulfonylmethane), in addition to sulfur it contains water, acid and carbon. MSM forms white crystals with no odor and is found in many foods. This sulfur compound is particularly well absorbed by the body and is often offered as a dietary supplement.
What is the function and effect of sulfur in the body?
0.2 percent of the human body consists of sulfur, which is 40 times that of iron. There is a particularly large amount of sulfur in hair and nails.
Sulfur plays an important role in protein metabolism, as the mineral is a component of several amino acids. These include above all cysteine and methionine, they form substances that are required to break down and maintain cells.
The amino acid cysteine helps to form solid structural proteins to give skin, hair and connective tissue stability. The sulfur atoms form a so-called disulfide bridge with two cysteine molecules. These bridges cause amino acids to be given a 3D structure when they are lined up in curves and loops. This is called protein folding and is used for the correct function of the proteins.
The task of methionine is to transport the trace element selenium to where it is needed. Selenium fends off pathogens, is important for the connective tissue, eyes and blood vessels and offers protection against free radicals.
Sulfur helps detoxify the body because, together with water, it binds toxins such as alcohol, nicotine, arsenic and cadmium and thus promotes their excretion. Furthermore, sulfur is a component of insulin and the body's own important antioxidant glutathione, but it is also contained in vitamins H and B1.
Causes and Symptoms of Sulfur Deficiency
Since the selection of foods containing sulfur is very large, a sulfur deficiency almost never occurs. This would only be possible with an extremely low-protein diet. In addition, there is no evidence that a lack of sulfur has harmful effects on health. Nowadays, serious deficiency symptoms only occur in countries with famine, which manifest themselves in skin inflammation, nail problems and stunted growth.
There are also a few voices that are against the general opinion that deficiency is not possible. The reason they cite is that less manure is now being fertilized with the high sulfur content and therefore smaller amounts end up in the food.
Is it possible to overdose or poison with sulfur?
Overdosing is possible if significant quantities of foods that contain sulfur or have been preserved with it are consumed. Caution should therefore be exercised with some of these sulfur compounds, e.g. sulfur dioxide and sulfide. Both are mainly found in sweet wines, dried fruits and finished products made from potatoes.
Even small amounts of sulfur dioxide and sulfide lead to some people:
The following complaints can occur after a higher intake of sulfur compounds:
- Allergic reaction
- Visual disturbances
- Kidney damage
- Decrease in enzyme activity
- Destruction of the B vitamins
- Promotion of carcinogenic substances
Acute sulfur poisoning can lead to respiratory paralysis and loss of consciousness. Medicinal charcoal is often used to bind the poison in the body.
Inhaling sulfur gases such as hydrogen sulfide (H2S) can also irritate the airways and lead to coughing. H2S occurs in fertilizers and arises from the decomposition of proteins that contain sulfur, the smell is very unpleasant (rotten eggs).
Foods with sulfur
There is no reliable information about the recommended daily intake of sulfur. Estimates are between 500-1,000 milligrams a day.
Since the well-represented amino acids cystine and methionine contain sulfur, it is most commonly found in protein-containing foods.
There are high amounts of sulfur in:
- Fish, e.g. herring herring, crabs
- Mussels, e.g. scallops, mussels
- Cheese, especially parmesan
- Garlic and onions
Basically it can be said about sulfur that without this nutrient, many processes in the body would not function properly. However, a lack of sulfur is usually not to be feared, as the mineral is sufficiently available in food. The additional intake of the organic sulfur compound MSM as a dietary supplement is therefore not necessary.
However, caution should be exercised when consuming some sulfur compounds that are used as preservatives in the food industry. In case of doubt, even small amounts can lead to discomfort.
Photo credits: © vsl / shutterstock.com
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