Sulfur-free at last!

low-sulfurI made a massive diet change yesterday, replacing 80 to 90% of my diet –  a change that frightened me as much or more than going vegan. It began Saturday night with a few hours of research and cross-referencing of the low-sulfur/thiol food list and the high-folate food lists. Sunday morning continued with two hours of shopping at Whole Foods and Vitamin Cottage, followed by a nap and then 3 to 4 hours of cooking followed by near total exhaustion.

You’ll see the product of my work in the photo at the right which was my breakfast this morning. For someone who has been eating large quantities of vegetables for many many years, this is an enormous challenge because the food list I am working with is way too short.

Now, here’s how I got here.

  1. I don’t have even the slightest doubt that I have mercury and other heavy metal toxicity.
  2. Mercury is known to cause intolerance of thiol containing foods in which my diet was very heavy for many years.
  3. Mercury is hypothesized to block the methylation cycle causing functional B-12 deficiency.
  4. B-12 deficiency is well known to cause fatigue, concentration difficulties, and memory impairment (among lots of other bad things) which I have in spades.
  5. Overcoming methylation dysfunction is aided by avoiding both folic acid supplements and high-folate foods.
  6. At the time that I became very sick in 2007, I was eating extraordinary quantities of broccoli, a very high sulfur food. As much as 4 to 5 pounds a day.
  7. I stopped eating broccoli long ago but continued eating a very high sulfur diet including lentils almost around-the-clock.
  8. There is a substantial overlap between the high-folate food list and high-sulfur food list, so I combined them to create my own elimination list.

What exactly does Andy Cutler say about thiols?

Sulfur is an atom in many food molecules. Sometimes it is in the form of a thiol, and sometimes in another form that can be converted to a thiol. Sulfate and sulfite are the only forms that seems not to convert to a thiol. People with too many thiols running around stir up their heavy metal burdens and are in essence more poisoned than they have to be given the amount of metal present. High thiols also activate the allergic part of the immune system. Glutathione is one of the body’s major thiol containing molecules.

Not wanting to be more poisoned than I need to be, I took the plunge!  I’m trying the low-sulfur and methylation diet at the same time.  There may even be some scientific basis for this according to METHIONINE AND METHYLATION: CHICKEN OR THE EGG:

First, there’s this:

Methyl group production in the methionine cycle is intimately linked to other portions of the system, namely to folate and sulfate metabolism. These pathways cannot be isolated from one another. They supply each other with substrates and work together like gears, so if one cycle isn’t moving in a progressive direction, the other two may not be either.

And then concerning sulfate metabolism:

Excess sulfur generates excess sulfur breakdown products like hydrogen sulfide, sulfite and other toxic molecules. It can also result in reduced glutathione production because of unbalanced and non-optimal function of the transsulfuration pathway. Sulfur is able to directly activate the stress/cortisol response that can lead to elevations in adrenaline and depletion of dopamine and norepinephrine. A constant state of fight or flight produces sympathetic versus parasympathetic overload and a wide range of secondary effects in the body, including changes in the magnesium/calcium ratio, decreased levels of serotonin and dopamine, effects on the methionine cycle via BHMT pathway substrate levels, changes in GABA/glutamate balance, as well as potentially depleting important glucose metabolizing enzymes and causing blood sugar fluctuations.

And ultimately concerning sulfate metabolism and detoxification of heavy metals:

When functioning optimally, the transsulfuration pathway generates glutathione (GSH). GSH is the body’s main antioxidant and heavy metal detoxification agent.

My summary:  Methylation and transsulferation work together — so excess dietary sulfur can interfere with methylation.  Excess dietary sulfur also creates toxic molecules, disrupts sugar control and neurotransmitter production and may interfere with heavy metal detoxification.  Very, very bad!

In order to make this combined elimination diet work, I’m being forced to eat foods with a higher glycemic index than I like. Well, I actually like high-glycemic foods but have avoided them for years because of my poor sugar control. So, now I’m eating yams, spaghetti squash and acorn squash for example. The easy way to use this list is to eat lots of meat which I like. The challenge for me is to include enough vegetables to stay healthy (ha ha). Note, a low-sulfur diet has also been used by others to fight inflammation.

What I fear the most about this diet is the lack of foods I can easily use for snacking. I need to snack all the time in between meals to keep my energy up and brain functioning. But without beans or nuts, I’m not sure what to do. Coconut flakes are the only packaged food on the list that is easy to make snacks with, but I need something to combine with it to replace seeds and nuts…

One thing I don’t understand yet is how the low sulfur list was put together…

Because of the challenges of this diet and because of the changes I’ve made to supplements, I felt that I should do an easy round this week, so I am doing DMSA-only at four hour intervals.

Here’s what I’m eating now – listed as combinations that I enjoy:

  • bacon and spaghetti squash
  • acorn squash and butter
  • yams covered with cinnamon and mixed with coconut flakes
  • chicken thighs with skin and little chunks of ginger
  • artichoke hearts
  • beef brisket
  • roasted turkey
  • diced zucchini sautéed in butter with sweet corn
  • lamb chops
  • ground turkey
  • coconut flakes mixed with cinnamon and cayenne pepper
  • shrimp

That’s about it, I don’t have much variety and hope to add a couple more things. Definitely will try butternut squash soon.

Here are the relevant lists I’m working with:

Low sulfur/thiol (to eat)

High-folate (to avoid)

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  • avatar

    Lindsay September 22, 2016, 7:04 pm

    I love you site. I too have to avoid thiols. How has progress been?

    • avatar

      Eric October 4, 2016, 12:31 am

      thanks Lindsay! i no longer avoid thiols and have made quite a bit of progress in the past year. be well.

      • avatar

        Lisa October 5, 2016, 2:18 pm

        Just now found your site after getting some genetic results that suggest removing or limiting sulphuric and thiol containing foods. Plus I have mercury almagams. what did you do to heal?

        • avatar

          Eric October 5, 2016, 5:10 pm

          Well it’s a very long story… Short answer in no particular order is liver flushing, methylation support, master cleanse, frequent dose heavy metal chelation, iron chelation, fenbendazole and other natural gut cleansers. Still working on it! First step for you is probably safe removal of amalgams.

          • avatar

            Darla October 28, 2016, 9:45 pm

            Did you do this all on your own, with your own research? I am going to a functional medicine doctor and getting positive results. I have quite a few gene mutations of which MTHFR ( methylation) and CBS ( transulfuration) are effected. I still have my amalgams as I can’t afford to have them removed just yet and can’t find a biological dentist within a 200 mile radius. I’d like to hear more on how you specifically got yourself turned around. I suffer from anxiety, depression, irritability and a few other symptoms related to the gene mutations. Did you have any problems with such issues?

            • avatar

              Eric November 1, 2016, 4:26 pm

              all on my own with my own research yes. I did experience all of those things at one time or another… wish I could be of more help. I don’t know much about how to cope with amalgams as almost all of the available information is about how to get them out and what to do afterwards.

  • avatar

    Kathleen Conner August 7, 2016, 1:04 am

    DMSA has sulfer, try EDTA instead!

  • avatar

    Wanda April 17, 2016, 11:49 pm

    Does anybody have any real problems with sulfur? I’ve been going through absolutely horrible bouts of severe, violent vomiting and diarrhea which are presaged with a wicked tasting sulfur burp after which I know I will be vomiting and unable to leave the toilet for the next 10 hours or so. At the end I am so weak I can’t stand up or sit straight, even if my stomach is empty, I have dry heaves with just bile or foam over and over and over until I’m like a ragdoll. This first happened to me just before my gallbladder ruptured, had emergency surgery to remove it, it was full of stones, but I didn’t get sick again until about 3 months later, then went to a gastro specialist who put me on Benefiber every day which I did and I was okay for over a year then all of a sudden it happened again– then nothing for another 6- 8 months, sick again, nothing for another several months, then I was sick at Valentine’s Day, Easter weekend, last Friday and this past Friday. I ate a lot of greens – kale salads and a lot of fruit, had a soft spot for carbs since I am on strong narcotics and steroids for severe rheumatoid arthritis and they have screwed up my digestive system terribly. I take Pariet for acid reflux but it does nothing for this sulfur thing. I can’t find any answers, my gastro guy says it is a motility issue- the food is not moving fast enough, but I eat very little at a time, and it doesn’t seem to matter what I eat– it can be triggered anytime. I can be fine for months on what I eat, then I get sick out of the blue. Anyone have this kind of thing? I am desperate to know what the hell causes this. Thanks.

    • avatar

      Eric April 18, 2016, 3:25 pm

      Have you tried low dose naltrexone for your rheumatoid arthritis? If not, please look it up!! You may want to see my post about it here on the site also…

    • avatar

      cynthia royal April 20, 2016, 9:55 pm

      I had exactly the same symptoms as you, plus debilitating fatigue and untreatable pain. What’s help me most is to get off all prescription meds except life-critical ones (and I mean really critical) and radically alter my diet, with a focus on avoiding high sulfur and high oxalate (a naturally occuring substance that is poison in quantity to humans) foods. I.E. I don’t avoid all sulfur and oxalate containing foods, just those high in those compounts, plus minimizing ALL manmade substances (if you don’t know what it is or can’t pronounce it, it’s manmade…) AND ensuring all foods I eat are organic (thus avoiding Axigrow, a high MSG plant growth stimulator, and glyphosate, a weed killer, which is sprayed on most foods). In addition, have yourself checked for non-alchohomic fatty liver disease. And if you haven’t had the full 23&me genetic workup done yet AND run it through 3rd party translation software (to generate a report that will actually make sense to medical-laymen) you are doing yourself a disservice.

      In addition, I’ve found Sparga Sulfur Detox (10 drops in water as many times daily as you can) has really meant the difference for me between not being able to eat any sulfur foods to being able to liberalize my diet a couple times a week.

      Finally, eliminate ALL things from your life that cause unnecessary stress, EVEN if it means moving on from toxic family and/or friends. This can mean the difference between wanting to wake up in the morning, to wanting not to (and all that implies…).

      I know how desperate this roller coaster ride can be, which on the down days/weeks/months just sucks. Do know there are others like you out there you can take comfort in knowing and learning from. Hugs ~ Cynthia

    • avatar

      Michele Rogers August 28, 2016, 6:33 pm

      I had this exact thing for years. Was finally diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. (Right before I lost my insurance, though, so not a lot of follow-up.) You can request a genetic test from your PCP. If it’s not that, I can tell you I’ve been mostly able to avoid these episodes by quitting all alcohol and wheat and avoiding preservatives/prepared foods.

      Hope this helps.

    • avatar

      Elle September 2, 2016, 6:03 pm

      I have chronic Lyme and have had it pretty much under control with the Cowden protocol. I also have systemic candida and the CBS gene mutation that makes tolerating sulphur difficult, most importantly it makes it hard to detox the heavy metal load, I also have. Last year I did about 18 IV chelations for heavy metals and I think it stirred things up and made things worse. Today, after about 2 weeks on a candida diet with very little change in the bloating, I thought I would try a week of the low sulphur diet. I just started today and had a little fruit, which I probably shouldn’t have due to the candida. Anyway, other than that, I have had low sulphur foods and have extreme fatigue and a headache. Do you herx on this protocol? How long does this last?

      Thanks

  • avatar

    whisperingsage April 7, 2016, 8:07 pm

    Sorry to be a downer but certain amino acids have sulfur, they have to. Sulfur isn’t all bad- in fact, Stephanie Seneff might give you some clues that can help; http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/abcs-of-nutrition/sulfur-deficiency/ and Chris Masterjohn;http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/soy-alert/fuming-about-sulfur-not-a-leg-to-stand-on/ I didn’t deliberately leave out sulfur or keep it is (garlic and onions are noted- but they grow better with adequate sulfur in the soil- plants need their minerals to make OUR vitamins; http://www.soilminerals dot com)

    Have you heard of Weston Price? I would think you have but I haven’t seen you mention him. here is his research Nutrition and Physical Degeneration; http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200251h.html He studied the healthiest people all over the world in the 1930’s for 9 years and brought the knowledge to home to use on his patients. Know also what he called Factor X we now know is vitamin K2. http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/abcs-of-nutrition/on-the-trail-of-the-elusive-x-factor-a-sixty-two-year-old-mystery-finally-solved/

  • avatar

    Cynthia Royal March 13, 2016, 10:48 pm

    Hi Eric – I’ve had issues with pain, fatigue, allergies and neurotransmitter issues most of my life, although like you, I lead a fairly productive life by pushing through and resting as I could. But, a year ago this month, I crashed becoming wheelchair bound and bedridden now for 1 year. After discovering the genetic, bacterial and heavy metal toxicity components to my issues, I’m now working with Dr. James Roberts a cardiologist who is integrating methylation and other genetics in treating his patients who don’t get well. He has me on a low sulfur diet, but in addition, he specifically calls for eating “nothing with eyes” as a starting point to address my CBS (+/+) upregulation, even though the low-thiols list includes many foods that are animal based. As you have included a great deal of animal protein in your diet, have you done so because you don’t this same CBS issue? Or something else?

    Also, I know this is a basic question, but brain fog is prevailing – How do I know if I need folate or whether I need to avoid it like you are doing?

    Thanks from a big fan 🙂

    • avatar

      Eric April 1, 2016, 4:32 pm

      Hi Cynthia, I’m sorry you have had such a hard time! blogs are really tricky because it’s hard to know what is up-to-date and what isn’t – I’m not avoiding high folate foods anymore…

      The reason I eat lots of animal protein is that I feel best eating that way. Just trial and error.

      The brain fog and folate question is tricky. I don’t really know the answer because I haven’t recovered enough yet. I suspect that a good test is if you take mfolate and it gives you brain fog or increases it, but goes away when you persevere (for me that was three weeks) then it probably means it’s something you need IF your genetics show you are likely to need supplementation or there is some other reason you may have a dysfunctional methylation cycle…

  • avatar

    Irene February 24, 2016, 4:36 pm

    Don’t know if my experience will shed light on the whole sulpher situation but here goes.

    High sulpher foods and some sulpher amino acids interfere with the thyroid and can cause hypothyroidism.
    My TSH for years had been between 1.5 and tops 2.5 (Canadian measurement) and then it jumped to 4.15 which is still normal but since I had a lot of hypothyroid symptoms I became concerned. My Dr. wants to wait and see which is fine because it gives me a chance to get back to normal hopefully on my own.

    My symptoms were: hoarseness (like chronic laryngitis), constant “belching” something I’d never had before, low energy, low pulse (bradycardia), foggy thinking, dry eyes but watery in appearance, and difficulty in taking a deep breath. I didn’t have all the classic symptoms of a low thyroid, thankfully.

    I’ve changed my regimine to avoid certain supplements, namely, N’Acetyle Cysteine (NAC), garlic pills, Taurine, Methionine (at night it used to give a good sleep) and I’m cutting back on raw cabbage, saurekraut and broccoli etc.,I also cut out all wheat just in case, and have been eating rice and oatmeal along with usual meat, eggs and milk in moderation.
    I’ve only been on my new diet for a week or so and already my eyes are feeling normal, my vocal chords are almost back to normal. The energy is back and I’m not depressed.
    I think my glutationine levels are O.K. (I was taking NAC to raise glutathionine) since I don’t catch colds even when everyone around me is sick.

    • avatar

      Eric February 27, 2016, 7:08 pm

      Congratulations Irene! Could easily be the wheat, no? why don’t you try adding wheat back in so you’ll know?

    • avatar

      Alice February 28, 2016, 8:25 pm

      Irene, I have symptoms exactly as you mentioned. When you say you stopped eating RAW cabbage, you got my attention. I love raw cabbage and your comment about raw cabbage made me think I am worsening my problem with eating it. Question, if I cook cabbage or boil it in water and drain away water and eat the cabbage, will that remedy this sulfur problem?? Thanks

  • avatar

    Sarah January 30, 2016, 5:03 am

    Is there anyone on here who has NEGATIVE symptoms when ingesting sulfur rich foods? I started noticing that my urine smelled bizarre/off after ingesting eggs (and then started noticing with broccoli, onions, garlic…). I would also get bloated. I stopped eating all ‘sulfur rich’ foods and symptoms go away until I ingest any sulfur foods again. And when I cook fresh eggs they smell rotten to me.
    Help anyone? I am not finding anything anywhere.

    I am gluten free, dairy free already (autoimmune not allergy).

    • avatar

      Karis February 3, 2016, 7:12 pm

      Hi Sarah:

      There IS something called sulfur intolerance.
      It can be the result of an upregulated CBS enzyme (which I have).
      If you are over-methylating (which I am), you may have this also.

      Here is a quote from the GeneticGenie.org report on my 23andMe test results:

      “CBS (cystathionine beta synthase) catalyzes the first step of the transsulfuration pathway, from homocysteine to cystathionine. CBS defects are actually an upregulation of the CBS enzyme. This means the enzyme works too fast. In these patients, it’s common to see low levels of cystathionine and homocysteine since there is a rapid conversion to taurine. This leads to high levels of taurine and ammonia. The CBS upregulation has been clinically observed to result in sulfur intolerance in some patients.

      It has also been observed that BH4 can also become depleted with a CBS upregulation. BH4 helps regulate neurotransmitters and mood. (Other mutations such as MTHFR A128C, chronic bacterial infections, and aluminum can also lead to low BH4 levels. Lack of BH4 can lead to mast cell degranulation and possibly mast cell activation disorder (MCAD).

      NOTE: While some physicians think the CBS mutation is one of the most important mutations to address, there is very little medical research to support these claims and some doctors in the field disagree. In normal populations, studies have shown CBS upregulations to be protective against high homocysteine. However, CBS upregulations have shown to be harmful in Down Syndrome. Medical research has not determined if CBS upregulations are harmful in those with syndromes or disorders leading to impaired methylation.”

      Maybe this is TMI (too much information), as much of that quote may not apply to you, but if you have not had your genetic SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) analyzed (one option for doing so is at 23andMe.com), you might want to. It’s about $199 there. Then you can submit the results to GeneticGenie.org for analysis. They only ask for donations there.

      Or you can just keep avoiding high-sulfur foods, which I’ve read can help down-regulate the CBS enzyme.
      There are also doctors out there that understand this stuff, but I don’t know of one personally. Names I recall are Benjamin Lynch (Seattle area), Josh Axe and Dr. Jockers, all of whom you can find online.
      There are others who have a different take on it. Dr. Laurence Wilson, MD, from Arizona comes to mind.
      http://drlwilson.com/Articles/METHYLATION.htm

      Hope that helps some!

      Karis

    • avatar

      Karis February 3, 2016, 7:16 pm

      Hi Sarah:

      There are doctors out there that understand this stuff, but I don’t know of one personally.
      Names I recall are Benjamin Lynch (Seattle area), Josh Axe and Dr. Jockers, all of whom you can find online.
      There are others who have a different take on it. Dr. Laurence Wilson, MD, from Arizona comes to mind.
      http://drlwilson.com/Articles/METHYLATION.htm

      Hope that helps some!

      Karis

  • avatar

    Ashley December 19, 2015, 8:28 pm

    FYI, coconut flakes and shrimp are both high in sulfate

  • avatar

    Kathy December 2, 2015, 8:54 pm

    5 lb broccoli a day sounds insane, why not to listen to your body and let yourself to eat what your body needs. You recovered not because you excluded sulfur, but because you included some meat. More than 4oz meat a day another insane extreme.

    • avatar

      Eric December 5, 2015, 5:42 pm

      yeah, I don’t do that anymore – that was about seven years ago – and I try to avoid all extremes…

    • avatar

      Peter March 2, 2016, 11:02 am

      I tried listening to my body for a while but hat to quit when all those donuts made me really fat. My gut feeling was telling me that I should eat the donut. Then I did some research and found out that the parasites inside our gut have a direct communication link to our basal ganglia (the region of our brain responsible for conditioning (ie) the reward centre). This communication link is called the vagus nerve. So if you want to base your diet on what your body is telling you, then exactly who was it that told you to do that? In response to the lady who ate all that brocolli, this is just one of the downsides of being naturally inquisitive (that you get burnt from time to time). As a result you learned that sulphur is nasty hence the smell. I got burnt when I fully embraced the whole fermentation and canning fad and I’m still suffering but I will never tell myself to stop being curious. The bad smell from sulphur is just information from a non parasitic source within in you which is telling you to stay away from the stuff.

  • avatar

    Helen November 20, 2015, 1:31 am

    Hi guys, I urge you all to join my facebook group for Sulphur allergy sufferers. I am currently putting together an extensive recipe book as well as a list of brands for products I use in my cooking. I am 5th generation hereditary Sulphur allergy sufferer with a child on the way and I would love to have some more people like us join the group and share recipes. The more we help each other out, the bigger our list of ‘safe foods’ will get! I’ll soon be posting recipes to the page and it’s worth joining for advice etc. Please check it out and join it! I would love to be in contact with other people like us!

    • avatar

      Lauren January 4, 2016, 4:29 am

      I’d like to join your sulfur Facebook group. I have everything you talked about.

    • avatar

      Will March 13, 2016, 6:13 pm

      My mom and I would like to join the Facebook group as well!

    • avatar

      Cynthia Royal March 13, 2016, 9:41 pm

      Helen, what is the name of your Facebook group so I can join? Thanks 🙂

    • avatar

      Robyn May 25, 2016, 2:38 am

      Please do leave me your website….I have CBS and inflammation and autoimmune disease, and do all my own cooking. Thanks!

    • avatar

      Shari Grabow September 22, 2016, 4:13 am

      I would sure like to be a part of your Facebook group. I have been going to a natural doctor since June. i have a “sulfur intolerance” and it has caused me lots of issues! Thanks!

  • avatar

    DuneWidget October 13, 2015, 9:12 pm

    @Mathew Grace –
    I have the classic “sulfur makes me feel bad” symptoms. My genetics are a hot mess, which has meant I’ve been having to educate myself a lot on this stuff. Fortunately I’m working with a naturopath who focuses on this stuff, and she’s been explaining a lot of the details to me. A messed up CBS can go either way. Don’t assume a homozygous CBS will boost sulfur output. Sulfur is not bad for you just because your CBS is borked. In some people this genetic polymorphism speeds up production of sulfur, in others this slows it down. You sound like someone who could use a lot more sulfur, especially if your glutithione levels are so low.

"...nothing ever goes away
until it has taught us
what we need to know.
"
-Pema Chodron

"God, whose law it is that all who learn must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God."
-Aeschylus

About


My name is Eric - I‘m 48 and saw a doctor for fatigue at 17. I lived fairly normally if a little subdued by lack of endurance at times. But then, 12 years ago I fell into a nosedive after moving to South Florida. Now, I know heavy metal toxicity is a significant source of my troubles along with genetic methylation cycle dysfunction and Lyme disease. I spent 18 months chelating the metals out and starting up methylation but stopped when I felt myself circling the drain. Currently going after Lyme and co-infections. More about me here.

* supplements
* hair test
* genetics
* lessons learned

"Battles are won in their darkest hours. Wars are won by learning something from each battle."
-Eric

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