Suppression

Sulphur

Category: Natural chemicals

Type

Voluntary

Introduction and description


Soufriere Volcano in St. Lucia
(soufriere is French for sulphur)

 

Sulfur or sulphur is a chemical element with the symbol S and atomic number 16. It is 'an abundant, multivalent non-metal'. Elemental sulfur is a bright yellow crystalline solid when at room temperature. Sulfur occurs naturally as the pure element (native sulfur) and as sulfide and sulfate minerals. Many sulfur compounds are 'odoriferous', and the smell of garlic is due to sulfur compounds.

Sulfur is an essential element for all life and of all living cells. It is the seventh or eighth most abundant element in the human body by weight, being about as common as potassium, and a little more common than sodium or chlorine. A 70 kg human body contains about 140 grams of sulfur.

Sulfur in organic form is present in the vitamins biotin and thiamine, the latter being named for the Greek word for sulfur. Sulfur is an important part of many enzymes and in antioxidant molecules like glutathione and thioredoxin. Organically bonded sulfur is a component of all proteins, as the amino acids cysteine and methionine. Disulfide bonds are largely responsible for the mechanical strength and insolubility of the protein keratin, found in outer skin, hair, and feathers, and the element contributes to their pungent odor when burned.

And sulphur has considerable healing potential both when ingested [usually in food] and when applied externally. It is anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, and appears to be also anti-viral in some cases. When applied externally it is anti-parasitic.

Its other use appears to be as a chelation agent. Chemically, sulfur can react as either an oxidant or reducing agent. It oxidizes most metals and several nonmetals, including carbon, and it reduces several strong oxidants, such as oxygen and fluorine. At one time sulphur rich waters- such as those found at hot springs and in volcanic areas, were drunk to treat lead poisoning – and it worked.

Background

Being abundant in native form, sulfur was known in ancient times, mentioned for its uses in ancient India, ancient Greece, China and Egypt. Fumes from burning sulfur were used as fumigants, and sulfur-containing medicinal mixtures were used as balms and antiparasitics. Sulfur is referred to in the Bible as brimstone (burn stone) in English, with this name still used in 'several nonscientific tomes'. Today, almost all elemental sulfur is produced as a byproduct of removing sulfur-containing 'contaminants' from natural gas and petroleum. As a result we get 'coal tar' a product that once had widespread use in soap, shampoo and ointments for ezcema and dermatitis.

The element's commercial uses are primarily in fertilizers, because of the relatively high requirement of plants for it, in matches, insecticides and fungicides.

Elemental sulfur is one of the oldest fungicides and pesticides.

"Dusting sulfur," elemental sulfur in powdered form, is a common fungicide for grapes, strawberry, many vegetables and several other crops. It is effective against a wide range of powdery mildew diseases as well as black spot. In organic production, sulfur is the most important fungicide. It is the only fungicide used in organically farmed apple production against the main disease, apple scab, under colder conditions. Wettable sulfur is the commercial name for dusting sulfur formulated with additional ingredients to make it water miscible. It has similar applications and is used as a fungicide against mildew and other mould-related problems with plants and soil.

Elemental sulfur powder is used as an "organic" (i.e. "green") insecticide against ticks and mites. A common method of use is to dust clothing or limbs with sulfur powder.

Diluted solutions of lime sulfur (made by combining calcium hydroxide with elemental sulfur in water), are used as a dip for pets to destroy ringworm (fungus), mange and other dermatoses and parasites.

Sulfur candles consist of almost pure sulfur in blocks or pellets that are burned to fumigate structures. It is no longer used in the home due to the toxicity of the products of combustion.

Sulfite salts have been called "the most powerful tool in winemaking." After the yeast-fermentation stage in winemaking, sulfites absorb oxygen and inhibit aerobic bacterial growth that otherwise would turn ethanol into acetic acid, souring the wine. Without this preservative step, indefinite refrigeration of the product before consumption is usually required. Similar methods go back into antiquity but modern historical mentions of the practice go to the fifteenth century. The practice is used by large industrial wine producers and small organic wine producers alike.

Note that some people are allergic to the sulfites used for their antioxidant and antibacterial preservative properties by the food industry.

Method

Sulfur, as an essential mineral and as sulfur containing amino acids are fundamentally important to human health, and conditions such as nitrogen imbalance and protein-energy malnutrition may result from deficiency.

Methionine cannot be synthesized by humans, and cysteine synthesis requires a steady supply of sulfur.

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of methionine (combined with cysteine) for adults is set at 13–14 mg kg-1 day-1 (13–14 mg per kg of body weight per day), but some researchers have argued that this figure is too low, and should more appropriately be 25 mg kg-1 day-1.

Ingestion - What foods can we eat to obtain sulphur? Eggs are high in sulfur because large amounts of the element are necessary for feather formation. The allium family of onions and garlic contain good supplies of sulphur. Brassicas such as brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and other leafy green vegetables contain sulphur. Cress contains sulphur as do peas. Dairy products contain sulphur.

What foods contain methionine? The table below gives more details of foods containing good supplies of methionine. As you can see, high levels of methionine can be found in eggs, sesame seeds, Brazil nuts, fish, meats and some other plant seeds; methionine is also found in cereal grains. Most fruits and vegetables contain very little of it. Most legumes are also low in methionine. 

Food

g/100g

Egg, white, dried, powder, glucose reduced

3.204

Sesame seeds flour (low fat)

1.656

Egg, whole, dried

1.477

Cheese, Parmesan, shredded

1.114

Brazil nuts

1.008

Soy protein concentrate

0.814

Chicken, broilers or fryers, roasted

0.801

Fish, tuna, light, canned in water, drained solids

0.755

Beef, cured, dried

0.749

Bacon

0.593

Beef, ground, 95% lean meat / 5% fat, raw

0.565

Pork, ground, 96% lean / 4% fat, raw

0.564

Wheat germ

0.456

Oat

0.312

Peanuts

0.309

Chickpea

0.253

Corn, yellow

0.197

Almonds

0.151

Beans, pinto, cooked

0.117

Lentils, cooked

0.077

Rice, brown, medium-grain, cooked

0.052

We should also not forget mineral water from volcanic springs or areas with high sulphur content. 'Taking the waters' is a good way of obtaining sulphur.

Flowers of sulphur was once a well known homeopathic remedy for acne.

   

Externally applied – ointments, and mineral waters are two good sources. The anti-parasitic, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties of sulphur can be obtained by bathing in hot volcanic springs, like those in Iceland, for example, or those in Hungary, or Bath and Harrogate.

At one time a truly awful looking black sulphur containing ointment was used for psoriasis and dermatitis – and it worked, it both healed and soothed, though it was very messy. Coal tar shampoo also worked and is still available for dandruff caused by fungal infections or bacteria. 

Related observations