All you need to know about sulphur-rich foods
The latest evidence on whether foods with sulphur are beneficial or should be avoided.
What is sulphur?
Sulphur, calcium, and phosphorus are the three most abundant minerals in the human body.
Sulphur plays an important role in crucial functions in your body, such as making protein, regulating gene expression, building and repairing DNA, and helping your body metabolize food.
This element is also essential for making and recycling glutathione — one of the body’s main antioxidants that help reduce inflammation and prevent cell damage caused by oxidative stress.
Sulphur also helps maintain the integrity of connective tissues, such as your skin, tendons, and ligaments.
Many foods and beverages — even drinking water from certain origins — naturally contain sulphur. Some medications and supplements, including certain antibiotics, analgesics, and joint pain remedies, contain varying levels of this mineral as well.
Possible side effects of too much sulphur
While following a diet containing enough sulphur is vital for your health, too much of this mineral may cause a few unpleasant side effects.
Drinking water containing high levels of sulphur may cause loose stools and diarrhea. Excessive amounts of this mineral in your water can also give it an unpleasant taste and make it smell like rotten eggs. You can test the sulphur content of your water by using sulphur sticks (5).
On the other hand, there’s currently no strong evidence that eating large amounts of sulphur-rich foods has the same laxative effect.
A sulphur-rich diet may worsen symptoms in those with ulcerative colitis (UC) or Crohn’s disease (CD) — two inflammatory bowel diseases that cause chronic inflammation and ulcers in the gut.
Emerging research suggests that sulphur-rich foods may help a specific type of sulphate-reducing bacteria (SRB) thrive in your gut. These bacteria release sulphide, a compound thought to break down the gut barrier, causing damage and inflammation.
That said, not all sulphur-rich foods may have the same effect. For instance, while a diet rich in sulphur-containing animal products and low in fiber may raise SRB levels, one rich in sulphur-containing vegetables appears to have the opposite effect.
Moreover, many factors other than the sulphur content of foods may influence the balance of gut bacteria. Therefore, more research is needed before strong conclusions can be made.
Sulphur-rich foods can also be beneficial
Despite the potential drawbacks of getting too much sulphur, it’s important to include this nutrient in your diet.
Sulphur plays a critical role in gene expression and maintaining the integrity of body tissues. It also helps metabolize food and protects your body from inflammation and oxidative stress.
In addition, sulphur-rich foods are often rich in a variety of other nutrients and beneficial plant compounds. Cutting these foods out of your diet may make it more difficult to meet your daily nutrient needs.
What’s more, certain sulphur-rich foods, such as garlic and cruciferous vegetables, may even help protect against diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, as well as age-related losses of brain function.
Thus, limiting your intake of these foods too drastically is not recommended, unless it’s truly needed.
If you suspect sulphur-rich foods to be a cause of bowel discomfort, consider seeking guidance from a registered dietitian to ensure that your low sulphur diet continues to meet your daily nutrient needs.