Selenium & Sulfur (Sulphur)
The information presented is based on Cellular trace mineral analysis - not Serum / Blood measurements.
RDA / DRI, synergists, antagonists, side effects, and deficiency / overdose / toxicity symptoms are listed on bottom of page.
Selenium (Se) and Sulfur (S) are associated trace element / mineral pairs, considered essential to human
health. While selenium supplements have been available for many years, sulfur requirements had to be met
mostly through dietary sources, primarily eggs, onions and garlic until supplements became available in the
mid 1990s. This solved the problem for individuals with below-normal sulfur (or sulphur) levels who couldn't
tolerate these foods.
With MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) entering the market, it immediately became so much easier to deal with
medical conditions requiring larger amounts of sulfur as part of their treatment. Both, selenium and sulfur
bind to a number of heavy, or toxic metals, with selenium being protective against cadmium, arsenic, mercury,
and lead, while sulfur (being to a lesser degree protective of the same), is helpful to lower aluminum levels.
Sulfur interferes with the storage of copper, an essential trace element,
however with copper levels being on the high side with many people, this
is generally a positive effect. It is interesting that patients with normal
or below-normal copper levels rarely exhibit deficient sulfur levels. In fact,
the benefits of sulfur-containing supplements (Glucosamine Sulfate, MSM)
on some forms of arthritis are not just a result of their positive effect on
cartilage regeneration, but are largely based on lowering elevated copper
levels which promote joint degeneration, particularly - or more so - on the
right side of the body.
Of course, on those rare occasions when copper is actually deficient, sulfur-
containing supplements - just like larger amounts of Vitamin C - should not
be used, as they could trigger, or worsen existing inflammatory conditions.
In addition, individuals with a tendency for blood sugar disorders (diabetes)
should be aware of potential negative effect on blood sugar management when taking glucosamine sulfate.
Possible adverse or side effects of consuming higher amounts of sulfur-containing foods or supplements such
as glucosamine sulfate, MSM, methionine, taurine, cysteine / cystine... include diarrhea, flatulence / gas, and
abdominal bloating, while a small number of patients have experienced a "burning" sensation in their stomach.
With sulfur being a calcium, copper, and potassium antagonist, a high intake of glucosamine sulfate, or MSM
may worsen low calcium-related disorders such as insomnia, fatigue, anxieties, or bone loss, aggravate low
potassium-related cardiac, or renal / genitourinary conditions, or worsen low copper-related infections.
Various placebo-controlled studies have shown that 50 - 60% of test subjects had a positive response to
a variety of joint / musculoskeletal types of injuries or arthritis as a result of supplementing MSM as a sulfur
source. Equally impressive were placebo-controlled trials that showed improvement in hair growth, brilliance
and thickness of hair fibers, as well as an overall improvement effect of 80% in regard to nail health, strength,
thickness, and appearance.
Other studies showed sulfur to be effective for faster wound healing, parasitic infections, reduced severity
of sun burns, reduced allergic reactions, improved lung functions, including asthma, and along with Vitamin C,
sulfur helps to maintain elasticity and suppleness of the skin.
MSM also reduces lactic acid and related muscle soreness. That same mechanism can benefit cancer patients
when large amounts of MSM are taken to interfere with the increased glucose synthesis from lactic acid. This
Cori cycle loop, where lactic acid is released by the tumor, converted in the liver to glucose, and then taken up
again by cancer cells, is one reason many cancer patients experience cachexia, a common wasting syndrome
with cancer that causes weight loss, anorexia, fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, and muscle atrophy.
At the same time, sufficient intake of MSM or other sulfur sources are able to deplete copper, and therefore
inhibit angiogenesis - the growth of new blood vessels necessary to allow a tumor to grow and metastasize.
Patients who are prescribed Potassium (Slow K, K-Lyte), should be aware that the amount
they take will have to be increased when also supplementing MSM, or Glucosamine Sulfate.
Selenium deficiency  leads to lowered glutathione peroxidase activity (cardiovascular disease) and it
is implicated with a higher risk for cancer of the liver (particularly from hepatitis B), lungs, breast, prostate,
skin, rectum, and colon.
It is unclear whether the lowered risk of developing certain cancers from taking about 200 mcg of selenium
per day also applies to individuals who previously exhibited normal levels of selenium, or only to those with
lower levels before supplementing that amount.
Although selenium and Vitamin E work together synergistically in that they
carry out antioxidant and immuno-stimulating functions, they compete with
each other on a biochemical level, where increasing the one requires an
increase of the other, otherwise ratio problems occur. The same effect
happens to Vitamin E when higher amounts of Vitamin C are supplemented,
despite both being antioxidants.
Although there are reports that Vitamin C inhibits selenium absorption by
inactivating it in the small intestine or stomach, this is not supported by my
own findings, or those by most other researchers. In fact, ascorbic acid
supports selenium uptake by interfering with the inhibitory action of zinc
on selenium (and thus making Vitamin C synergistic with selenium instead),
particularly when organic forms are used.
On a similar note, while sulfur and molybdenum compete for uptake in plants, supplementing either one in
humans helps uptake of the other by inhibiting copper, which is an antagonist to sulfur and molybdenum, so
for practical purposes (and confirmed in thousands of clinical applications), they work as synergists with one
another. There is an identical relationship between vanadium and selenium against chromium, resulting in
the same synergism.
Some people - because of media hype (more is better) - take several hundred mcg of selenium a day, but I
usually advise my own patients against higher amounts - not so much because of selenium toxicity (although
that does become a concern at higher amounts), but because of its antagonism to chromium, magnesium,
zinc and other nutritional factors. Long-term excessive intake of selenium increases the potential risk of
triggering shingles, or developing trabecular osteoporosis, cystadenoma (usually in the throat), an enlarged
prostate, reduced glucose tolerance / diabetes, neurological disturbances, or other negative consequences.
Many people get away with mega-supplementation because they take a lot of everything, so one half of what
they are taking cancels out the other half. It is when people start to overdose on single items (which they
don't actually need), over longer periods of time, that they frequently run into trouble. ¤
Selenium: 1,000 mcg = 1mg
Sulfur / Sulphur - Sulfates / Sulphates:
Cellular / Intracellular Attributes and Interactions:
Phosphorus, vanadium,* Vitamin C,* [sulfur].
Selenium Antagonists / Inhibitors:
Chromium, zinc, magnesium, Vitamin E,* [sulfur],
[toxic metals - arsenic, mercury, lead, cadmium...].
Sodium, molybdenum,* selenium, Vitamin B12.
Sulfur Antagonists / Inhibitors:
Copper, potassium, calcium, Vitamin B15,
[toxic metals - aluminum, mercury, cadmium...].
* see text above on the synergism / antagonism between Selenium + Vitamin E, Sulfur + Molybdenum, and others.
Low Levels / Deficiency - Symptoms and/or Risk Factors:
Cardiomyopathy, cardiovascular disease, stroke,
nerve degeneration, greater risk for some cancers,
hypothyroidism (T3), arthritis, anemia.
Alzheimer's disease, nerve degeneration, lupus,
memory loss, arthritis / cartilage degeneration,
allergies, scleroderma, reduced insulin production,
collagen diseases affecting hair, skin, nails.
Selenium (mostly inorganic forms):
Nerve degeneration, osteoporosis, cystadenoma,
ALS / Lou Gehrig's disease, higher blood sugar levels,
shingles, loss of hair, abnormal nails, tooth decay,
garlic breath, greater risk for some cancers, death.
High levels / Overdose / Toxicity / Negative Side Effects - Symptoms and/or Risk Factors:
Sulfur and Selenium food sources
Crohn's disease, nerve degeneration, ALS /
Lou Gehrig's disease, asthma from sulfites,
inflammatory vascular / joint degeneration.
Eggs, onions, garlic, brazil nuts, seafood / shellfish,
brewer's yeast, whole grains, wheat germ.
Egg yolk, onions, garlic, dairy, wheat germ, nuts,
meats, fish, legumes, cabbage. ¤
All body cells contain sulfur-containing compounds. Those of primary importance in nutrition include cysteine,
methionine, homocysteine, taurine, chondroitin, heparin, fibrinogen, thiamine, biotin, lipoic acid, Coenzyme A,
glutathione, and inorganic sulfate.
An important function of sulfur is its role in carbohydrate metabolism, where sulfur is a component of insulin,
the hormone secreted by the pancreas essential for carbohydrate metabolism. So since low sulfur can result
in lowered insulin production, adequate amounts of sulfur in the diet is helpful in the prevention of diabetes.
However, there are some medical disorders that present with above-normal levels of cellular sulfur and/or
selenium, in which case food or supplemental sources of sulfur or selenium should be adjusted accordingly:
Crohn's disease, a debilitating, chronic, and inflammatory disease of the gut is one condition where all sulfur
(and sometimes selenium) sources should be kept to a minimum. In addition, diets should be kept as bland
as possible to keep any flare-ups of Crohn's at bay, and rather than following general "wholesome" dietary
advice, meals should be more processed and refined, with special emphasis on avoiding whole-grain products.
This includes husks of corn / popcorn, wild rice, oats, nuts, seeds, beans, fiber-rich foods, lettuce, skins of
fruit, most raw vegetables and greens. In contrast, edible clay has a favorable effect on Crohn's disease.
Lou Gehrig's disease, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is another disorder that presents with
above-normal sulfur and selenium levels, which also requires avoidance of sulfur and selenium-rich supple-
ments and/or foods, particularly the big three - eggs, onions, and garlic, although it should be emphasized
that dietary sources are not the cause of Lou Gehrig's disease, but excessive storage of cellular sulfur and
selenium. Nutritional factors that inhibit sulfur and selenium activity are listed below under "Antagonists
and Inhibitors." In contrast, some rare forms of ALS or Parkinson's-like diseases are attributable to mercury
poisoning, in which case selenium supplementation can be a consideration for its mercury-lowering effect.
Alzheimer's disease - like Lou Gehrig's disease - is affected by sulfur (and selenium) intake as well, how-
ever, corresponding to the progression of the disease, sulfur levels become proportionally deficient to a point
of no longer being measurable with terminal cases. So with Alzheimer's disease, the exact opposite dietary
recommendations to ALS apply, where sulfur-containing supplements (MSM, glucosamine sulfate, methionine,
taurine, cysteine / cystine), and sulfur-rich foods (eggs, onions, garlic) should be increased. (for details
Copper - like calcium - becomes bio-unavailable at excessive storage
levels, and as such may trigger similar medical conditions at high levels
as it does at low levels, whereby a number of co-factors are required
to help with its metabolism.
Sulfur, Vitamin C, chromium and molybdenum are all co-factors, which
help normalize copper levels, and/or increase its bioavailability, and
consequently help with related physical problems such as spinal / joint
and vascular degeneration, or mental / emotional problems such as
moodiness, "foggy" mind, memory problems, confusion, or ADD / ADHD.
Selenium supplementation is an effective way to reduce excessive mercury levels. I have monitored on
a number of occasions a sharp drop in selenium levels when dental amalgams were removed, and where
subsequently selenium slowly returned to previous levels again over a three to four week time period.
When people have no heavy or toxic metal concentrations in their body (that bind to selenium), there are
generally no negative symptoms experienced when taking about 200 mcg of selenium a day, however when
selenium is very low when first supplemented (perhaps due to toxic / heavy metal storage), and larger
amounts are taken, adverse effects are very commonly experienced the first few weeks due to the heavy
or toxic metals being eliminated by the body. In that case, I always urge my patients to slowly increase
their selenium dose from as low as 25 mcg per day (or even lower), up to eventually the full dose, which
generally is around 100 mcg, or sometimes higher, depending on circumstances.
Organic forms of selenium (selenium yeast and selenomethionine, or selenocysteine) are always preferable
to inorganic forms such as sodium selenite because of their better absorption and lower toxicity. In contrast,
due to its free-radical promoting oxidative nature, inorganic selenium is mutagenic and has caused cataracts
at high doses in animal studies, while organic selenium is less toxic, and does not have mutagenic activity.
2013 Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) - Recommended Dietary Allowance / Intake (RDA / RDI) for
Adults, Children, Pregnancy & Nursing - Adequate Intake (AI) - Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL)
11-18 years males
19 + years males
11-18 years females
19 + years females
15 mcg AI
20 mcg AI
20 mcg - 40 mcg
40 mcg - 55 mcg
40 mcg - 55 mcg
DRI (RDA): none
11-18 years males
19 + years males
11-18 years females
19 + years females
100mg - 500mg
800mg - 1,000mg
800mg - 1,000mg
800mg - 1,000mg
800mg - 1,000mg
UL: 45 mcg - 400 mcg
Therapeutic Range: 700mg - 3,200mg +
Best time to take Selenium: Anytime during the
day, with food (preferably), or without food.
Therapeutic Range: 500 mg - 6,000 mg +
Best time to take Sulfur: Anytime during the day,
with food. If larger amounts are supplemented, they
should be divided equally with meals.
Estimated daily intake of Sulfur / Sulphates from
Additives: up to 450mg, Food: 900mg - 1,100mg,
Water - dependening on area: 30mg - 3,000mg +
General recommendations for nutritional supplementation: To avoid stomach problems and improve tolerance,
supplements should be taken earlier, or in the middle of a larger meal. When taken on an empty stomach or
after a meal, there is a greater risk of some tablets causing irritation, or eventually erosion of the esophageal
sphincter, resulting in Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). It is also advisable not to lie down right after
taking pills. When taking a large daily amount of a single nutrient, it is better to split it up into smaller doses
to not interfere with the absorption of other nutrients in food, or nutrients supplemented at lower amounts.
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