Elements Necessary For Life: Sulfur

Atomic Number 16

Why Does the Body Need It?

Sulfur, being the third most abundant element of the human body has many uses inside the human body. One use is in the production and growth of hair, nails, and skin. Keratin is found in our nails, skin, and hair and keratin has cysteine in it which is commonly found in sulfur. Although sulfur is found in keratin, its most important use is being a part of proteins. Sulfur in present in four amino acids; methionine, cysteine, homocysteine, and taurine. Methionine is the most important amino acid in protein synthesis, and cannot be synthesized by the body, it must be gained through your diet. Cysteine has the ability to form disulfide bonds which play a huge role in protein structure and protein-folding pathways. Cysteine can be synthesized by the body but you must get a steady supply of sulfur in your diet. These amino acids make up proteins. Proteins are the building blacks of all cells, found in the cell membrane. These protein chains often contain the sulfur amino acids: methionine and cysteine. This allows the transportation of oxygen across the cell membrane. Sulfur also plays an important role in your body's electron transport system, being a part of iron/sulfur proteins in mitochondria. Without sulfur, insulin would not function. Insulin molecules are made of two amino acid chains which are connected by sulfur bridges. Without these sulfur bridges insulin cannot perform its needed activity. Sulfur also helps with the formation of collagens which produces connective tissues, cell structures, and artery walls. Sulfur is also a part of the process of detoxification by binding to heave metal contaminants, making is easier for the body to get rid of these substances. Without a sufficient amount of sulfur in the body, enzymes cannot function properly and the body will be unable to function correctly.
The Importance Of Sulfur In Our Diet

1:55 min - 6:17 min

Can We Get Too Much or Not Enough?

Although sulfur is the third most abundant element in the body, we can get too much and not enough. Too much sulfur can be damaging to the body. It can cause damage to the kidneys, digestive problems, lower amounts of potassium and calcium, and the worsening of previous diseases. Too much sulfur can damage the liver. The liver gets rid of the sulfur that is not needed, but if the liver is damaged then is cannot perform this job. This can lead to swelling of extremities, disturbance of blood circulation, damage to immune systems, and damage to the kidneys. If you have diseases such as Chron's disease or Lou Gehrig's disease, the intake of sulfur should be lowered. The result of not enough sulfur is that muscles may become stiff, joints may become painful, and your skin can become wrinkled or begin to sag. The reason for painful joints and muscle stiffness is because sulfur is found in tissue, allowing it to be flexible. Also, if your body lacks sulfur, it could cause serious damage to, or shut down the body. If you do not have the correct amount of sulfur in your body then enzymes cannot function properly. Also, with insufficient amounts of sulfur, it makes it more difficult for the pancreas to produce insulin which makes it harder to absorb things out of the blood leading too a higher blood sugar. Low levels of sulfur also lead to cells being unable to regenerate. Also, with low levels of sulfur, oxygen cannot pass through the cell membrane of cells making the oxygen unable to get to the cell, which leads to the cell being unable to regenerate. If you are not getting enough sulfur through your diet, there is a dietary supplement called methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). The average price of this supplement is about $11 and is sold in many pharmacies. Most pills contain 1000 mg of sulfur.

Recommended Daily Amount:

Children from ages 1-10 need 100mg-500mg sulfur

Males and females from ages 11+ need around 800mg-1000mg of sulfur

Food Sources


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"Sulfur." University of Maryland Medical Center. Ed. Steven D. Ehrlich. VeriMed Healthcare Network, 11 June 2011. Web. 03 Nov. 2013.