Elizabeth Rowan, DSOM, LAc

Nutrition science is in its infancy. Many standard medical texts have a small section covering nutrition. They generally mention the same handful of essential vitamins and minerals and include a brief summary of what happens when a person consumes an excessive quantity or experiences severe deprivation. However, there are innumerable subtle processes constantly occurring in the body and these rely upon specific substances which must be obtained through food. It is increasingly evident that Americans are overfed and undernourished. By satisfying our appetites with processed foods, which have been stripped of nutrients through refinement and improper cooking methods, we’re unwittingly starving ourselves in subtle ways.

Profound nutrient deficiencies look like mysterious diseases. Classic examples include rickets and scurvy. Rickets presents with pain, delayed growth, muscle weakness, bone softening and deformation. Imagine if this disease were only recently discovered and no one understood the underlying cause. Medical researches would likely set to work identifying pharmaceuticals to harden the bones, promote growth, and boost muscle performance. Eventually someone would discover that all these symptoms were manifesting due to a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is neither sexy, nor expensive. No one can patent it. Nevertheless, with enough vitamin D, a body suffering from rickets will gradually grow stronger.

To further illustrate this point, let’s look at sulfur. This mineral is as critically important as it is overlooked. You certainly won’t find it on nutrition labels. Dietary sulfur is required for healthy skin and joints, blood circulation, detoxification, digestion, hormone regulation, immune function, and connective tissue maintenance. It provides oxygen and energy to cells, protects against oxidation damage, and helps break down glucose.

Insufficient sulfur may contribute to the cellular damage that causes insulin resistance and obesity because sulfur is required to manufacture insulin and it also protects the cells from damage due to excess sugar in the blood stream. Excess sugar combines with proteins and fats in a process called glycation. The resulting molecules, called “advanced glycation end products” (AGEs), are highly reactive. They contribute to oxidative stress and are associated with hyperglycemia, diabetes, inflammation, heart disease, and accelerated aging in skin and other tissue.

Sulfur deficiency may also lead to common problems such as digestive disturbance, allergies, high blood pressure, muscle wasting, weight gain, circulatory issues, impotence, asthma, arthritis, immune problems, swelling, chronic fatigue, and chronic pain.

Sulfur is present in most animal proteins (especially eggs and raw milk), alliums (garlic and onions), and cruciferous vegetables (including broccoli and cauliflower). An omnivore eating a primarily whole food diet would presumably have plenty of sulfur available from food alone. However, the demand can quickly outstrip the supply. When pharmaceuticals, alcohol, or other toxins are present, we need sulfur to detoxify them.

When there is tissue damage from injury or aging, we need sulfur to repair it. When the immune system is taxed, we need sulfur to boost it. Sulfur is only one of countless nutrients our bodies depend upon for the endless repair and regeneration of our cells. When cellular metabolism is compromised, debris accumulates and this creates an environment conducive to many chronic diseases including tumor formation. Although I often recommend targeted supplementation, only whole foods are capable of providing the broad spectrum of nutrients we need to thrive.


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