SULFUR: Hair, Skin, Mineral Magic
Sulfur: that mineral that sits just below oxygen on the periodic table is often referred to as ‘the beauty mineral’. Why? Because sulfur is present in every cell in the body and is especially concentrated in the joints, hair, skin, and nails. The average beauty junkie may not be aware of sulfur but definitely knows about collagen- that abundant protein that also makes up so much of our skin, hair, connective tissues and even our bones and teeth. While everyone seems to be trying to step up their collagen game (from creams to smoothie boosters) not everyone seems to realize that collagen production relies heavily on sulfur, and that almost all of us don’t get enough of it.
We can produce collagen without much thought and indeed it is the most basic building block of our entire body. You can find collagen almost everywhere- it is in our joints and ligaments and we even have more collagen in our bones than calcium. In our skin, collagen is ultra important. Think of your skin as a chain link fence: the finer the weave of the fence, the stronger and more flexible it is. Collagen helps to keep the weave of this ‘fence’ and its overall structure strong. However as we age, collagen production turns sluggish and from about the age of 25 begins its slow but steady decline.
How much collagen we produce (and therefore the quality of our skin, nails and hair) will vary greatly from person to person. Some people are gifted in their collagen reserves and others not, but in the end the collagen we produce will be dictated largely by the quality of what we are eating and our intake of micronutrients. We are organisms constantly in a state of repairing, rebuilding and regenerating right down to the cellular level. It stands to reason that those of us who have more and better of the necessary building blocks to do this will rebuild and repair more successfully. In other words, it’s about good nutrition. To properly generate collagen we need the right ‘stuff’ to make it- specifically amino acids such as cysteine, adequate vitamin C, and sulfur. The presence or absence of these important micronutrients to a large extent determine how much and how well we can produce collagen in the body. The old adage “we are what we eat” has never been so true.
‘In order to build stronger collagen (and great skin and hair) we need enough of these building blocks and this depends to a large degree on adequate sulfur in the body.’
Sulfur works at the cellular level to give us great skin. How? It works by making our cells more flexible and more permeable. As we age, our cell walls become thicker and more rigid. This is significant as some have argued that the intelligence of the cell actually resides in its lipid membrane as not only as merely a separation between the cell and its environment but also a kind of gatekeeper in terms of what gets accepted into the cell and what not. Thicker and harder cell membranes mean that it is more difficult to move substances in and out of the cell. In other words, things get stuck- less nutrition goes in and less waste gets out and therefore cellular regeneration is hampered, even slowed. Sulfur works by regulating the all important sodium/potassium electrolyte balance of the cell; making the membrane of the cell become more flexible, fluid, and overall less rigid. The membrane becomes overall softer and better at regulating itself and its functions.
What does this mean for your skin? Better cell membrane permeability and nutrient uptake/waste management means that cell turnover is increased and many common skin conditions such as rosacea, scar formations, dark spots and sun damage can be alleviated or even reversed.
But the beauty benefits don’t stop there. Additional sulfur in the diet is fabulous for hair health and growth. Just as sulfur helps build collagen and strengthen the skin, it also helps to boost keratin giving hair its strength and elasticity. Sulfur is actually found in significant amounts in keratin (think di-sulfide bonds). You hair obsessives know that keratin is that fibrous protein that makes our hair and nails strong and which is why keratin is found in so many hair products. The only problem is that when applied externally (as in shampoos and conditioners) keratin is not lasting and washes out quite quickly. A more permanent solution is to address our hair needs internally. Keratin (and hair growth in general) is stimulated by an increase in sulfur intake. Extra sulfur in the diet is also said to extend the growing phase of the hair…and who doesn’t want that? Although it may take a few months to see tangible results, consistent supplementation will lead to faster hair growth and thicker, healthier hair. Biotin may be trendy, and regular exercise is great for getting blood flow to the scalp, but sulfur is a true building block of great hair. Consistently increase your sulfur intake and watch your hair grow and strengthen like never before.
All around healer
Due to its profound positive effects on cellular health, the benefits of added sulfur in the diet are significant and wide reaching. The list is seemingly endless- better immune function, accelerated healing, reduced pain and inflammation, liver detoxifier…. it seems the only thing sulfur can’t do is wash your dishes. Here are just some of the benefits of adding more sulfur to your diet:
· amazing boost for hair and nail health and growth
· alleviates symptoms of allergies and asthma
· great for arthritis, helps to make joints more flexible
· anti-parasitic, good for chronic yeast infections and candida
· good for chronic constipation
· insulin regulator, good for diabetics
· improves digestion and gut health
· good for migranes
· alleviates or eliminates skin conditions such as rosacea and acne
· increases energy, good for chronic fatigue
· excellent anti-inflammatory and pain reliever
How to get it
Yes, sulfur is a truly remarkable, life changing mineral that we should all take more of. Of course some will argue that sulfur is present in nearly everything that we consume already from raw fruit, vegetables and grains. And that is true. As a general rule, any food with a distinct smell such as onions and garlic are rich in sulfur as are cruciferous vegetables such as egg yolks, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and brussels sprouts. The problem is food processing and simple cooking methods destroy a large percentage of the sulfur naturally present in our food. So we supplement. And we do this with something called MSM.
MSM stands for methylsulfonylmethane, which is an organic form of sulfur. It is approximately 34% bio-available, making it the richest source of organic sulfur available. MSM as a supplement is relatively inexpensive and easy to incorporate into your routine. Since the half-life of MSM consumed in the body is only 12 hours, supplementation may be best twice a day, usually morning and evening (although not before bed). Start with a teaspoon in water combined with any other vitamins or supplements you desire. MSM taken with other vitamins and minerals acts as a potentiator meaning that it assists in the assimilation and bioavailability of other nutrients. Sulfur is most commonly and importantly taken together with vitamin C, increasing the absorption of the latter by 400% to make this a superstar beauty ritual indeed. Are you in the habit of raising your micronutrient profile in the name of better hair, skin and nails? Take your vitamins with a good dose of sulfur.