Although sulfur is an essential element in human biology, we hear surprisingly little about sulfur in discussions on health. Sulfur binds strongly with oxygen, and is able to stably carry a charge ranging from +6 to -2, and is therefore very versatile in supporting aerobic metabolism. There is strong evidence that sulfur deficiency plays a role in diseases ranging from Alzheimer's to cancer to heart disease. Particularly intriguing is the relationship between sulfur deficiency and muscle wasting, a signature of end-stage cancer, AIDS, Crohn's disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
The African rift zone, where humans are believed to have first made their appearance several million years ago, would have been rich with sulfur supplied by active volcanism. It is striking that people living today in places where sulfur is abundantly provided by recent volcanism enjoy a low risk for heart disease and obesity.
In my research on sulfur, I was drawn to two mysterious molecules: cholesterol sulfate and vitamin D3 sulfate. Researchers have not yet determined the role that cholesterol sulfate plays in the blood stream, despite the fact that it is ubiquitous there. Research experiments have clearly shown that cholesterol sulfate is protective against heart disease. I have developed a theory proposing that cholesterol sulfate is central to the formation of lipid rafts, which, in turn, are essential for aerobic glucose metabolism. I would predict that deficiencies in cholesterol sulfate lead to severe defects in muscle metabolism, and this includes the heart muscle. My theory would explain the protective role of cholesterol sulfate in heart disease and muscle wasting diseases.
I have also argued that cholesterol sulfate delivers oxygen to myoglobin in muscle cells, resulting in safe oxygen transport to the mitochondria. I argue a similar role for alpha-synuclein in the brain. There is a striking relationship between Alzheimer's and sulfur depletion in neurons in the brain. Sulfur plays a key role in protectiing proteins in neurons and muscle cells from oxidative damage, while maintaining adequate oxygen supply to the mitochondria.
When muscles become impaired in glucose metabolism due to reduced availability of cholesterol sulfate, proliferating fat cells become involved in converting glucose to fat. This provides an alternative fuel for the muscle cells, and replenishes the cholesterol supply by storing and refurbishing cholesterol extracted from defective LDL. Thin people with cholesterol and sulfur deficiency are vulnerable to a wide range of problems, such as Crohn's disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and muscle wasting, because fat cells are not available to ameliorate the situation.
Cholesterol sulfate in the epithelium protects from invasion of pathogens through the skin, which greatly reduces the burden placed on the immune system. Perhaps the most intriguing possibility presented here is the idea that sulfur provides a way for the skin to become a solar-powered battery: to store the energy from sunlight as chemical energy in the sulfate molecule. This seems like a very sensible and practical scheme, and the biochemistry involved has been demonstrated to work in phototrophic sulfur-metabolizing bacteria found in sulfur hot springs.
The skin produces vitamin D3 sulfate upon exposure to sunlight, and the vitamin D3 found in breast milk is also sulfated. In light of these facts, it is quite surprising to me that so little research has been directed towards understanding what role sulfated vitamin D3 plays in the body. It is recently becoming apparent that vitamin D3 promotes a strong immune system and offers protection against cancer, yet how it achieves these benefits is not at all clear. I strongly suspect that it is vitamin D3 sulfate that carries out this aspect of vitamin D3's positive influence.
Modern lifestyle practices conspire to induce major deficiencies in cholesterol sulfate and vitamin D3 sulfate. We are encouraged to actively avoid sun exposure and to minimize dietary intake of cholesterol-containing foods. We are encouraged to consume a high-carbohydrate/low-fat diet which, as I have argued previously (Seneff2010), leads to impaired cholesterol uptake in cells. We are told nothing about sulfur, yet many factors, ranging from the Clean Air Act to intensive farming to water softeners, deplete the supply of sulfur in our food and water.
Fortunately, correcting these deficiencies at the individual level is easy and straightforward. If you just throw away the sunscreen and eat more eggs, those two steps alone may greatly increase your chances of living a long and healthy life.
Could Sulfur Deficiency be a Contributing Factor to Obesity, Heart Disease, Alzheimer's and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome? by Stephanie Seneff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.