Arthritis and Scleroderma from Low Levels / Deficiency of Selenium and Sulfur
Posted Sep 15 2010 12:00am
Selenium & Sulfur
Both elements share left / right-sided cell receptors and are essential to human health. While Selenium (Se)
supplements have been readily available for many years, up until the mid 90's, Sulfur (S) requirements had to
be met mostly through dietary sources, primarily eggs, onions and garlic. This created problems for people
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 also helpful to lower aluminum levels.
Sulfur interferes with the storage of copper, an essential trace element, however copper levels tend to be on
the high side with many people, so this is generally a positive effect. It is interesting that patients with normal
or below-normal copper levels rarely exhibit below-normal 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 they 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 consequences on blood sugar management when supplementing glucosamine sulfate.
Possible adverse effects of consuming higher amounts of sulfur-containing foods or supplements such as
glucosamine sulfate, MSM, methionine, taurine, cysteine / cystine... include diarrhea, flatulence, or bloating,
while a very small number of patients have complained of a "stomach burning" sensation. With sulfur being
a calcium and potassium antagonist, high supplemental intake of glucosamine sulfate or MSM may worsen
low calcium-related disorders such as insomnia, fatigue, anxieties, or bone loss, and they may worsen low
potassium-related cardiac, or renal / genitourinary conditions.
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, interstitial cystitis, and along
with Vitamin C, sulfur helps to maintain elasticity and suppleness of the skin.
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.
A most 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. Low sulfur can result
in low insulin production, so adequate amounts of sulfur in the diet can help with 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 reduced.
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
Se 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, even when
ingested at much higher amounts. 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 or oxidizing activity.
Deficiency of selenium 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, skin, rectum,
colon, and prostate.
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, Vitamin C
supports selenium uptake by preventing the inhibitory action of zinc on selenium (making Vit C synergistic to
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, an enlarged prostate, reduced glucose tolerance,
cystadenoma (usually in the throat), 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.
Low Levels / Deficiency - Symptoms and/or Risk Factors:
Cardiomyopathy, cardiovascular disease, stroke, nerve degeneration, higher risk for some cancers, hypothyroidism (T3), arthritis, anemia,