Sulfur Benefits (MSM): Top 8 Sulfur Rich Foods

MSM is a form of sulfur that has been called “The Miracle Supplement”.

It boldly claims to reduce pain and regrow hair among other things – but does it work?

Read below to find out why sulfur is important, which foods are highest in sulfur, and whether this mineral can help you feel less pain, grow more hair, and maybe even sleep better at night.

What Is Sulfur?

If you’ve ever visited a natural hot spring, you’ve likely encountered sulfur. Sulfur is a mineral that is yellow in color and smells distinctly of hard-boiled eggs.

Sulfur is the third most abundant mineral in the body and is commonly found within amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.

Methionine, an essential amino acid that cannot be made by your body, contains sulfur. Cysteine, a non-essential amino acid that your body can create, also contains sulfur. Even though your body can make it, there must be enough sulfur available in your system to form cysteine.

Your body cannot make sulfur, which means you must get it from the foods you eat. Most people are able to get plenty of sulfur from diet alone.

People at risk for low sulfur levels are the elderly, people with low-protein diets, and people who have a lowered ability to absorb nutrients.

What Is The Importance Of Sulfur?

Sulfur is needed to make certain enzymes, insulin, connective tissue, and countless other parts of the body.

The connection formed between two sulfur molecules is extremely strong. This bond contributes to the structure of insulin, keratin and many other molecules in the body. In fact, the sulfur bonds inside keratin determine whether your hair is curly or straight!

Sulfur is part of a major detoxifying molecule in the body called glutathione. Glutathione acts as an antioxidant and gets rid of harmful hydrogen peroxide by turning it into water.

The vitamins biotin (B7) and thiamine (B1) contain sulfur and are important for metabolism and creating energy.

Certain sulfur-containing proteins help to regulate the metabolism of fats from your diet. Taurine is an amino acid that contains sulfur and helps create bile. Bile allows fat to be absorbed into the cells of the intestines.

A true sulfur deficiency has never been observed, and no daily requirement has been set for this mineral.

What Is MSM?

MSM, or methylsulfonylmethane, is a supplement form of sulfur. It can be taken by mouth or applied to the skin.

This supplement form of sulfur became popular after a book about MSM was published in 1999. This book promised that MSM would relieve pain caused by headaches, arthritis, back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, post-traumatic stress and many other conditions.

Regardless of the popularity of MSM, very little research has been done on this supplement and whether it really works.

Is Sulfur Good For Hair?

Sulfur is necessary for keratin formation in hair. Keratin is also important to the skin and nails. The strong sulfur bonds inside of keratin are part of what give hair, skin, and nails their strength.

MSM has grown in popularity as a supplement for hair loss. This sulfur supplement has not been studied on its own for its effect on hair growth. It has, however, been shown to treat hair loss in mice when combined with magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, or MAP.

In that study, the sulfur supplement MSM allowed MAP to work better and grow more hair. This probably means that it was not the MSM that made the hair grow back, but the MAP.

Regardless of the lack of evidence, many people report great success after using MSM to regrow hair. Some people experience headaches, bloating, diarrhea, and nausea when using this supplement for hair growth.

Some people take sulfur supplements by mouth to help with hair growth, while others use a powdered form of MSM added to their shampoo or conditioner.

Can Sulfur Provide Pain Relief?

MSM may have the ability to reduce pain and swelling, especially in people with osteoarthritis. It has the potential to reduce pain by lowering the amount of nerve impulses that carry “pain signals” to the brain. Without these signals, pain will not be experienced.

Sulfur may also be beneficial to people with osteoarthritis because it is needed to create connective tissue. Certain types of connective tissue, such as cartilage, are located within joints. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage within the joints wears away, causing your bones to scrape together. Ouch!

One 2006 study showed that 6000 mg of MSM taken daily improved symptoms of osteoarthritis like pain and limited mobility. The participants in this study reported no major side effects after using MSM.

A 2016 study showed that supplementation of MSM, along with Boswellic Acid, was able to treat osteoarthritis just as well as glucosamine sulfate.

Glucosamine is the most widely-used supplement for osteoarthritis. It has been well studied for its ability to reduce symptoms like pain and swelling of the joints.

MSM shows promise for the treatment of pain and other symptoms experienced by people suffering from osteoarthritis. It may also be helpful for other problems caused with inflammation and swelling.

Other painful conditions that have been studied include interstitial cystitis, allergies, and inflammation caused by exercise. MSM was shown to improve symptoms in all of these conditions, although more studies need to be done to confirm these results.

Is Sulfur Good For The Pancreas?

Because insulin contains sulfur and is made in the pancreas, people have looked at how MSM may benefit this important organ.

The pancreas has many duties other than making insulin. It stores digestive enzymes like amylase and lipase that are needed to breakdown the food you eat. Once food enters your digestive system, the enzymes from the pancreas are released and enter the small intestine.

In pancreatitis, these digestive enzymes start to break down the cells of the pancreas instead of your food. This, as you may imagine, causes a lot of pain and swelling.

One study showed that MSM was able to reduce inflammation and amylase levels in mice with pancreatitis. Amylase is one of the digestive enzymes that is present in higher levels in people with pancreatitis.

Does Sulfur Help With Insomnia?

MSM has not been shown to help improve sleep in people with insomnia. In fact, one side effect experienced by many people taking MSM is insomnia.

Insomnia caused by MSM can possibly be avoided by taking this supplement in the morning instead of at bedtime.

It seems that people who suffer from depression may be at an increased risk of experiencing problems sleeping while taking this supplement. If you have depression or any other condition, check with your doctor before taking MSM supplements.

Can Sulfur Act As A Blood Thinner?

Heparin, a substance found naturally in the liver and other tissues of the body, contains sulfur. Heparin is an anticoagulant that prevents blood from clotting.

Because of this, low levels of sulfur have the potential to lead to blood clots. However, little (if any) research has been done on the blood-thinning effects of MSM supplementation.

One study done on sulfur-containing compounds found in garlic showed that they act as vasodilators. Vasodilators widen the passageways inside blood vessels. While this isn’t the same as a blood thinner, it does help blood flow more easily.

Which Foods Are High In Sulfur?

It is easy to get enough sulfur from food to meet your body’s requirements. Because sulfur is mainly found within amino acids, foods high in sulfur tend to be high in protein. Some of the best sources include:

  • 10 scallops = 570 mg
  • 30 roasted peanuts = 380 mg
  • 1 small chicken breast = 300 mg
  • 5 oz of cod = 230 mg
  • 1 burger patty = 220 mg
  • 1 egg = 180 mg
  • 25g of dried apricots = 160 mg
  • 1 cup of shredded cabbage = 120 mg

Does MSM Have Any Side Effects?

MSM supplements have very few known side effects. Some people experience stomach discomfort and diarrhea, but these are uncommon.

Anecdotally, many people taking MSM have problems with insomnia.

Sulfur supplements do not have any known interactions with medications, herbs, or other supplements.

While MSM seems safe to take in general, long term effects are not known. Check with your doctor before starting this or any other supplement.

Takeaway Notes

  • Sulfur is a mineral that is found in proteins.
  • Sulfur is important because of the strong bonds it can form. This mineral can be found inside certain enzymes, insulin, connective tissue, and keratin.
  • MSM is a supplement form of sulfur.
  • MSM shows promise for the treatment of osteoarthritis and other conditions caused by inflammation.
  • Foods high in protein like meats, seafood, and eggs are good sources of sulfur.
  • MSM is not known to cause many side effects, but check with your doctor before starting supplementation.
Kelli Yates
Kelli Yates
Kelli Yates is a health and nutrition writer, dietetics student, and co-host and creator of The Nutrition Nerds Podcast. In her spare time she teaches the free class Well-Fed Survival: Eating Healthy After A Disaster, which helps people build nutritious emergency food supplies and prepare for natural disasters.
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