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Sulfur Intolerance - Symptoms, Causes and Treatment - Dominick Hussey

Sulfur Intolerance – Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Sulfur intolerance is an old concept that is seeing a new lease of life. Some people are aware of sulfur because they are allergic to sulfur based medications. We associate sulfur with volcanoes. Others who live in the country around Ottawa, as I do, will know sulfur because they use well water.

In this article, I will describe what triggered me to learn more about sulfur, how sulfur is essential to the body, what are the symptoms of sulfur intolerance and how to treat it.

Close Encounter of the Sulfur Intolerance Kind

Meet Anne. Anne is a client of mine that I had been treating for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). Whenever she was taking the antimicrobial herbs, I prescribed her symptoms would go away. But as soon as she stopped the supplements her gas and bloating would return.

Anne’s case was a puzzle, so I decided to go back to basics and look at whether the food she was eating was causing her symptoms.

I asked her to do a food-symptom diary. She was following a low Fodmap diet which generally would help people with SIBO.

She came back after two weeks with her completed diary, but there did not appear to be any noticeable correlation between her symptoms and diet.

I told her to return after three weeks.

On the next visit, she reported that she had begun experiencing joint pain.  I asked her if anything had changed in her life and she said that her family had moved into a new house in the country.

The new house had a well. Anne always had drunk lots of water, so we got her to have her water tested. On receiving the water report, it showed it was very high in sulfur

Armed with this new information, I began looking at what foods are naturally high in sulfur. I told Anne to stop eating those foods and drinking the well water.

The effect was immediate. After two days, her gas, bloating and joint pain disappeared.

What is Sulphur?

Sulphur is a multivalent non-metal, abundant, tasteless and odourless. In its native form sulphur is a yellow crystalline solid.

In nature, it occurs as the pure element or as sulfide and sulfate minerals. Although sulphur is infamous for its smell, frequently compared to rotten eggs, that odour is characteristic of hydrogen sulphide.

How does the body use Sulphur?

Sulfur in the form of sulphate is the third most abundant mineral in the body, about half being is found in the muscles, skin and bones.

Sulphate makes up essential amino acids used to create protein in cells, tissues, hormones, enzymes, and antibodies.

Our bodies require a constant supply of Sulfate.

Sometimes the metabolism of sulfur to sulfate is hindered. Poor metabolism can be problematic and can lead to sulfur intolerance.

What are the symptoms of Sulphur Intolerance?

Sulphur intolerance can produce a wide variety of symptoms because sulphur plays a role in so many systems in the body. That said there are some more common symptoms including:

  • Feeling exhausted and toxic
  • Brain Fog
  • Constipation
  • Headaches
  • Eye inflammation
  • Skin issues like urticaria and eczema
  • Gas and bloating
  • Ammonia smell in nose
  • Joint pain

What is the cause of Sulfur Intolerance?

Sulfur intolerance is the result of an excess of sulfur in the body. This excess is partly due to a reduction in the bodies capacity to metabolise sulfur into sulphate.

A reason for this reduced sulfur metabolism is exposure to glyphosate.

Glyphosate is the active ingredient found in the herbicide, Roundup.

Farmers spray Roundup on genetically modified crops such as canola, corn, sugar beets and soy.

When ingested into the body glyphosate binds to Molybdenum. Molybdenum is one of the cofactors used by the body to convert sulfur into sulphate.

What are the primary sources of sulfur?

So glyphosate slows the conversion of sulfur to sulphate. This slowing will lead to a build-up of sulfur in the body. There are five chief sources of sulfur exposure

1. Diet

Diet is an obvious factor that may be aggravating sulfur intolerance. If you are eating a high sulfur diet such as a paleo style diet or GAPs diet that is going to be problematic.

Food that is high in sulfur include:

  • Eggs
  • Garlic
  • Kale
  • Onions
  • Nuts
  • Cruciferous Vegetables
  • Meat

The highlighted foods are most common.

2. Water Source

Anyone who is on well water needs to get their water tested. If you see red rings around your faucets and in your toilets, then you may have a high sulfur content in your water.

3. Medications and supplements

Common detoxification supplements such as Alpha Lipoic Acid, MSM and N-Acetylcysteine will increase sulfur levels in the body.

Certain medications, like sulfur medications, may be problematic. You may have been prescribed sulfasalazine and felt very ill. If someone has a sulfur allergy, that might be another indicator that they may have a sulfur intolerance issues going on.

4. Hydrogen Sulfide Bacteria

Hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria can be found in water systems. Again, testing is essential here.

5. Environment toxins

Sulfur is one of the byproducts of fossil fuel. Breathing in exhaust fuels is a potential source of sulfur.

What are the best treatment approaches for a sulfur intolerance?

The Low Sulfur Diet

If you google any diet on the internet, there are often many different versions available. That said they are all very similar and it does not matter if you follow a particular diet.

You can find my personal favourite low sulfur diet on Dr Jockers.

You can use this source as a base and then begin experimenting. Rarely are all sulphur foods bad for everybody. If you feel much better on a low sulfur diet, then you try reintroducing one food at a time to see which ones bring back your symptoms.

If sulfur intolerance is your issue, then you should notice a reduction in your symptoms after 3 to 5 days of following the diet.

Supplements

Supplements are a necessary part of treating a sulfur intolerance. The supplements help mitigate symptoms and help reduce high sulfur food intolerance.

Epsom Salt Baths

Epsom salts are composed of magnesium sulphate. Epsom salts can be very beneficial particularly for helping to reduce the toxic feeling. Take 4 cups of Epsom salts per bath.

Trace Minerals

Trace minerals that also have sulfate in them have been found to be clinically useful. Trace Minerals Research has a product called ConcenTrace that includes magnesium and calcium and also contains lithium orotate.

Calcium D-Glucarate

Calcium D-Glucarate has been found to be clinically useful for people with ammonia issues.

Molybdenum

As previously stated, molybdenum is a significant cofactor in the conversion sulphur into sulfate. Glyphosate exposure can cause a molybdenum deficiency. So avoiding glyphosate by eating organic foods and supplementing with molybdenum has been found to be clinically beneficial.

I recommend Biotics Mo-Zyme Forte, which is a food-based tablet based on sprouted lentils. Chew one tablet two times per day.

Hydroxocobalamin (B12)

There have been some impressive results in using hydroxocobalamin as well.

Bismuth

For those with digestive symptoms, I recommend Bismuth in the form of Bio HPF.

 

Disclaimer

This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Now I’d like to hear from you. Let us know in the comments below.

 

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28 comments

  1. Hello
    I’m confused about the recommendation here for Epsom salt baths if one has a known Sulfur intolerance as I’ve heard elsewhere to avoid Epsom salt baths if a known sulfur intolerance….?

    1. Hi Lisa, Epsom salt baths are ok if you use magnesium sulphate which the body can use. The reason you have a sulphur issue is that your body finds it hard to convert sulphur into sulphate.

  2. A few days ago, I started researching the possibility that I may have Sulphur Intolerance. What led me down this path is the fact that I had tried to take a Sulphur supplement (MSM) to see if it would help a skin condition. I had a very negative reaction to MSM. After reviewing a few web-sites about Sulphur Intolerance, which are remarkably similar, I chose a liquid Ionic Molybdenum as a first attempt to see if it could help. I took 120 micrograms, and the effect was profound and almost immediate! Mental clarity, increased energy, not as spaced out when hungry and improved memory. These are all things that have plagued me my entire life (I’m 67)! The skin condition is still there, but I’m hoping that will improve over time. I am now looking to fine tune what I eat, perhaps add other supplementation. Any thoughts you have would be appreciated.

    1. Hi Ed, Great to hear you are feeling better. I find many people with sulphur intolerance do well on a Low Fodmap diet as they often have SIBO. Hope this helps. Dominick

    2. Hi Ed, Apologies for the slow response. Removing the 4 high sulphur foods and foods high in pesticides. Dominick

  3. I have sulfur intolerance AND adrenal fatigue (very high high coritsol in the AM with a huge drop later on in the day) and am doing better on a low sulfur diet. However when I added molybdenum at 75 mcg per day I felt so horrible. I got adrenal rushes and felt like I had stuck my finger into a light socket. Any ideas on why molybdenum might do that to me and any suggestions for any other supplements that might help? I heard that zinc binds sulfur in the gut.

    1. Hi Katei, I have never seen your reaction to Molybdenum and am not sure why. My suggestion would be to continue the low sulfur diet plus avoiding foods high in pesticides. Pesticides are the things that steal the molybdenum. After 3-4 months doing that try adding back in the high sulphur foods. Regards Dominick

  4. Hello! My functional medicine doctor thinks that I may have a sensitivity to sulfur. I’ve done the low FODMAP diet very strictly for an extended amount of time with no alleviation of my symptoms. I was treated for SIBO using natural supplements and now I’m taking an antibiotic for it. I’m on a low sulfur diet which has helped to reduce, but not eliminate my symptoms. Although I do not have well water I think that my water might be high in sulfur because I do have the red rings around my faucet and my eyes get very red when I get out of the shower. I’m having a hard time finding a water purification system that removes sulfur. Do you know of any? Thank you!

    1. Hi Allison, You would probably need to look at a reverse osmosis filter but make sure you add the minerals back in. Dominick

  5. What do you recommend for protein sources then? Are legumes okay?

    1. Hi Erin, Legumes are generally low sulphur.

  6. Hi I’ve had gastrointestinal pain and discomfort my whole life but it came to a head when I got on Methadone maintenance for an opioid addiction it was about 2.5-3 years of Methadone on a high dose and caused great constipation but strangely the way I really noticed my constipation was the large amount of hydrogen sulphide burps that I had. I only had relief from the nasty burps when I vomited. I eventually started taking laxatives and the sulfur burps stopped. Flash toward a few years and I’ve moved onto property with a well and since drinking the water that although filtered I know contains dissolved minerals. I’m extremely low income and probably can’t afford to pay for hauling water up. Is molybdenum a good choice, should I get tested for sulfur by a physician. I just want to feel better

    1. Hi Daniel, Thanks for your comment. Taking Molybdenum may help. I suggest getting your water tested.

  7. Hi,
    Thank you so much for all this very helpful information (above)! I have two quick questions…

    I have a sulfer intolerance. I am seeing a Naturopath and am following a low sulfur diet. I would like to reduce the amount of meat in my diet, however, when I substitute meat with lentils, I have excess bloating and gas. Should I keep with this diet and wait for the gas to dissipate over time (as I heard can happen) or should I steer clear of lentils? Or perhaps just eat sprouted lentils?

    Also, is almond milk or coconut milk a better choice for people such as myself?

    Thank you so much for your advice and for your time, I really appreciate it.
    Jeni

    1. Hi Jeni, The reason you get gas and bloating with lentils could be because you need to introduce them slowly or may be because they are high fodmaps and you have SIBO.
      I would suggest you try almond milk first.

  8. Word of caution with anyone struggling with Sulfur Intolerance, if you have gut dysbiosis with an overwhelming number of sulfate reducing bacteria, foods like legumes can be very problematic. Resistant starch… prebiotic foods, complex carbs… all potentially problematic as they may convert into H2S. Speaking from experience as this was/is the cause of my sulfur intolerance. Hoping I can save you from the serious struggle I went through to figure this out for myself.

    1. Thanks for the insight.

  9. Brad/Dominick, how did you find out that you had dysbiosis with an overwhelming number of sulfate reducing bacteria? Is there a specific test I can ask my Doc to perform to determine this? I believe I have a sulfur intolerance and/or issue with high thyiol foods. I’ve also wondered if I might have mercury toxicity, I used to take a lot of tumeric, and I believe it raised my thyiol levels and caused hydrogen sulfide is Sibo. I was also taking lots of probiotics and taking prebiotics at the time. I ate sibo diet/low fod map for few weeks, and took generic antibiotic. I still get the burning diarrhea often, and experience bouts of sever exhaustion, headaches, pain behind eyes, brain fog, light headed ness, dizzy, lethargic, memory issues, etc. I’ve never been tested for anything, other than basic blood work, which never finds anything. What kind of tests/bloodwork can be done to narrow down my issues? I’ve also had colonoscopy and endoscopy, which came back normal with mild gastritis a few years ago. I took oregano oil, dgl, colostrum and a mastic gum for a while. I’m always so stressed out and depressed because of my life quality. Would love some answers! Thank you.

    1. Hi Rachel, I suggest you need to go and see a good functional medicine practitioner. You can find your nearest one by going to https://www.ifm.org/.

  10. Is MSM in eyedrops for cataract reversal formulated by an eye doctor also be considered a supplement for external use & could create reactions from a body with sulfur intolerance?
    Our well water has been tested prior to 2014 by landlord but I did not see results. Brown rings in toilet shows sulfur, is this the sign even if not red rings? I am vegetarian so sulfur is from cruciferous veggies, eggs & nuts at times. I do not take garlic & onion directly but infuse them in olive oil using cold infusion, is this also a high source of sulfur if I take the olive oil without the garlic & onion in its solid form?

  11. I rarely comment on anything but this article is so wrong. The reason for sulfur intolerance is NOT glyphosate exposure. It’s more often than not from the mobilization of heavy metals (particularly Mercury and Aluminium) The body uses Sulphur to detoxify and it will naturally mobilize heavy metals. This is why many Autistic kids are sensitive to high thiol/sulfur foods and supplements. You will never get rid of gut issues with these metals lingering in your bones and organs. Your immune system will constantly be fighting viruses, bacteria, fungi, etc because your minerals are out of balance and your nutrient deficient! Get back to our ancestral diet of nutrient dense foods i.e. animal fats, bones and organs that flood the body with everything it needs and balance your unique biochemistry with Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis.

    1. Hi Austin

      Thanks for your comment. Why is this article wrong? You do not give any evidence as to why Glyphosate does not and how heavy metals affect sulphation.

  12. I just got very sick, and I recognized my symptoms and realized I had totally overdone the sulfur/thiols. I’ve been back on a paleo diet and I’ve been LIVING on eggs, nuts, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, garlic and onions.

    I’m not sure if others get these symptoms— I’d be curious to know: I suffer from extreme incontinence ONLY when I overdo these foods— otherwise, not at all. I also get angry easily. When it’s severe, I get abdominal pain— like a severe bladder infection (without any burning on urination). At that point— once I’m aware of what it is, Molybdenum is a lifesaver.

    I have noticed that taking Lysine helps— those same foods tend to be high in Arginine, and I’m wondering if the Arginine/Lysine balance is somehow related to the thiols/sulfur issue. Taking lysine also seems to increase my urine flow and reduce a sensation of restriction (sorry if TMI). I wonder how many incontinence suffers have this and have NO IDEA that what they eat could be causing it or that Lysine helps? 🤔

    I had a severe reaction to Sufer-based antibiotics as a child, and an aversion to eggs. I also had more than THIRTY mercury amalgam fillings by the time I was twelve— some say that’s likely to be the problem— I think that AND glyphosate could both be causes. I react badly to MSM, SAMe, NAC, Methylfolate, etc. It’s hard to work on your methylation when your sulfation pathway seems to be stuck.

    I’m going to try the low sulfur diet you recommended, and see if it helps my joint pain, brain fog, fatigue, etc. Thanks for all the great information, and for any other suggestions or insights you might have.

    1. Hi Candance

      Thanks for your comment.

      I not entirely sure why Lysine helps you. I usually use Lysine to treat viral infections. Starting with a low sulfur organic diet is a good start.

  13. my name is Mike, and i noticed when i was on ritalin, the chances of my getting sulphur burps would greatly increase if i missed a dose, and especially if i drank pop the next day after going more than 24 hours without a dose, now i am off the drug, i got the burps again after drinking some white wine, still not sure if that is what caused it, but awhile after getting off of the ritalin, i notice that i get some annoying mild burps after eating meatloaf, and chilli, i could smell the onion in a bad way off of my breath, i am also have celiac disease i should point out, any advice, or info would be appreciated, thanks

    1. Hi Mike,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Sulphur burps may be caused by a build-up of hydrogen sulphide gas in your small intestine produced by an overgrowth of bacteria.

  14. Hi! Thank you so much for this article and all the replies. My daughter has been diagnosed with ADHD and I have tried several different non- drug methods that didn’t seem to help. I then found out about 23 and Me and the DNA test they perform. I got the results diagnosed by a naturalist doctor and she said the symptoms are being caused by a sulfur intolerance. She gave me a very detailed write-up and I have done a lot of research on diet. I would like to know if there is an accurate way to test sulfur and determine what is causing the sulfur intake. I heard about urine strips but can’t seem to find any. I did read that SAMe is not recommended for someone with sulfur intolerance but she was prescribed them for her mood. She was also prescribed 1 Methylation Complete, 2 Mitrochondrial Restore and 3 Omega 3 fish oils. She also takes a gluten free soy free food based multivitamin. Do you see any red flags with what she is taking? It’s been almost 1 month now and her grades are way up and so is her focus, which is awesome, just not sure about her hyperactivity and mood which I thought the samE would help with.

    1. Hi John

      With Sulphur issues, the most important thing is to ensure that you are not being exposed to sulphur and pesticides, which are thought to affect the body’s ability to convert sulphur into sulphate.

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