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High Sulfur foods? What are they?

Sulfur photo by R.Weller/Cochise College

 

We have found ourselves once again embarking on a low sulfur version of GAPS for my eldest. We did this the first year we were on GAPS (started fall of 2010) and seemed to have progressed beyond needing it but here we are back at it again. You can read more about her progress on GAPS here. Two years on GAPS Part 1 I’m suspecting that my falling off the broth wagon is largely to blame. I did so good with broth for so long but several months ago I just stopped using it as regularly and haven’t been able to get back into it. Instead of going through 2 qts of broth each day we go through that much in a week. Not good. So we haven’t entirely quit broth but we haven’t been getting it in therapeutic amounts. I didn’t notice anything at first but now I can see that my eldest just isn’t doing as well as she was emotionally. So we are back on Low Sulfur GAPS and I’m pushing broth again.

I’ll back up though. I don’t remember where I first came across the idea of eating low sulfur but it intrigued me pretty quickly. My eldest had always had issues with egg and dairy and her reactions were largely emotional. I finally discovered something that many of her food intolerances had in common. High free sulfur, also called thiols. Meat is also high sulfur but it is bound sulfur and rarely causes a problem like free thiols can in some people.

This is what Andy Cutler has to say about people who react to free sulfur. 

He notes, “You typically get a couple of hours of feeling good, energized, happy, and then libidinous, then you feel tired, draggy and depressed, which goes on for a day to a week. Of course if you are eating sulfur foods at each meal these all get stacked up and you can never figure out what is happening.”
The onset of reaction of symptoms is fairly prompt, with the tired/icky/depressed part starting within a few hours, and can last for 4-7 days. You might even enjoy eating these foods and believe that they do you no harm, but their reactions can cause you a lot of undue suffering.

Of course children who are depressed or tired often can be mistaken for children who feel the opposite.  Ever notice how your over tired kids start bouncing off the walls? That sort of thing can happen to kids who are reacting to foods as well. The foods may be making the kids feel sleepy or foggy but what we see as adults is crazy off the wall behavior.  That is the child trying to rev herself up so that she can keep going.  

When I decided to try her on low sulfur GAPS W was pretty out of control and we had daily struggles about so many issues. I felt like it was one battle after another. I found myself walking on egg shells wondering what would set her off next. Once I decided to give low sulfur a try was a bit overwhelmed and worried about getting balanced nutrition but since I should see results in just a week or less (gluten takes 6 months!) I figured I could do anything for a week. If I saw benefit I could figure out the rest then.

The first time we did low sulfur GAPS I slipped up and included roasted garlic in a dish at dinner early in the first week. She craved that garlic and ate a ton of it. She was very excited and energized while eating it and then moved into her almost manic behavior. Crazy out of control but happy. Then came the crash and she was no longer happy but weepy and extremely emotionally unstable as well as argumentative. It was the behavior we had associated with consumption of eggs. I was sold on the importance of this diet and quickly searched out a good list of foods to avoid and found this one.

Foods High In Free Sulfur

As the sulfur left her system she became so much more emotionally stable.  I wasn’t being yelled at all the time. Her attitude was largely positive. She began to read!!! Until this point she was still struggling with recognizing some letters (she was 6).  It clearly had a big impact on her ability to think and reason as well as on her emotions. What a relief!  It was worth it to figure out these dietary restrictions if I got this big a pay off! And she was clearly happier like this too. Despite missing her beloved eggs and yogurt she accepted this new restriction with a good attitude and prayed for healing so that she could eat them again. That in itself was a huge victory.

Over time we were able to reintroduce sulfur foods slowly into her diet and she tolerated more and more of them. She seemed to be doing very well on nearly all high sulfur foods. The only one that I kept somewhat restricted was garlic. It still seemed to cause issues but then earlier this year I no longer noticed any obvious issues from it and begain to use it freely. In retrospect I think that I was missing her reactions. With maturity, outbursts are better controled, and it is hard to know what is “just a phase” and what is a problem that needs addressing nutritionally. I try to not micromanage every little thing that comes up. We all have bad days sometimes. Plus this past winter and spring I was sicker than I had been so I missed a lot and went into survival mode much of the time..  

This spring I noticed that she was getting more volitile again but we had a stressful spring and I kept waiting for our life to get calmer to see if that would help. Plus it was obvious that she and her friends were begining to shift hormonally. Suddenly they had hips and curves and sassy attitudes to go with it. Then there was a memorable melt down over how the suitcases were to be packed on one of our travels. It was then that I realized that once again I was making decisions based on my fears of how she would react to them. Not a healthy or happy place to live. I spoke with her Dr about my concerns and we agreed to wait and see what some nutritional testing told us before deciding how to proceede. Unfortunatly getting those test results has proven to be complicated and we still don’t have them.

A short time ago I realized that much of what we are now dealing with is an older and somewhat milder version of that volitile behavior from 2 years ago that led us to a low sulfur diet. I also noticed that she seemed to be craving dairy and eggs and her behavior would be worse the more of those foods she ate (although very hyper and positive while eating them). One day this past week she ate 5 eggs for breakfast and then had a terrible day. Not only was she overly emotional but she struggled to understand and focus on her schoolwork. Our day was filled with lots of crying and arguing. The next day I insisted on a low sulfur diet and easily could see that she was more stable. It took a few days for the sulfur to fully work out of her system but over the next week or so we saw major improvement in her behavior and ability to do her schoolwork. Emotional instability is no fun for anyone, least of all the person experiencing it.

There are a few different theories as to why sulfur causes this unstable mood and problems and I am pursuing understanding them better in hopes that it will reveal a way to heal this sensitivity in her. It may be that it mobilizes mercury in the system. It may be that it interferes with seratonin production in the gut. It may be that it releases toxins while it is deadly to the candida it comes in contact with. Or it may be some other theory that as yet I have not encoutered is the real reason.  Whatever it is we are all much happier on this low sulfur diet even if I, the cook and grocery shopper, am not thrilled by providing it.

So here we are once again following a low sulfur version of GAPS. It is sobering to thinking that perhaps we are because I got lazy with broth making and drinking. I need to recognize that we will always have GAPS weaknesses and we need to learn to make peace with that. No matter what else we may be able to eat some day we must never neglect properly fermented foods or daily broth. Far better to drink a cup of broth daily for the rest of our lives than to return to where we once were. I do hope and pray that it can begin to taste good to W.  She thankfully has recently decided to drink it fast and get it over with but far better if it could begin to taste good to her and be a positive part of her day.
Do you have any questions about this Low Sulfur diet?  Have you done it yourself or are you now considering it for yourself or a family member?  Leave your comments below.

26 Comments

  1. Ever heard of FODMAP diet? The reason why I ask is that your daughters problems with garlic brought it to my mind. I have been gluten free for years and continued to have some symptoms sporadically, that were cleared up with going FODMAP free. Here is a link( I have nothing to do with this site – http://www.ibsfree.net/ibsfree_at_last/2012/07/hello-fodmaps-nice-to-meet-you.html

    • Thanks Tammy. I have heard of FODMAPs. That doesn’t really explain her issues with eggs though while sulfur does. So many different approaches and ways that each of our bodies can have trouble processing foods.

  2. Nice to have found your blog, you write about the health-food struggle like it is! Sometimes you get the feeling that people just get better in a week and problem solved. I have become much better on the diet (GAPS) but slowly and constantly going back and forth. And when I believe I can eat something just cos that has to be that way and I pay the prize for some time (4 days usually it takes to get back on track). I read about the probiotic (soil based) and it was just what I had been looking for… So again thanks, I am very grateful for finding your blog and that you write a blog!!

  3. Great article, Patti! I had not heard of this issue with thiols before. Now you have me wondering if it is playing into some of my daughter’s recent recurrences of GAPS-type symptoms (the reason that I have been MIA for more than two months). The GAPS-legal foods I have identified as culprits are all on the thiol list. Interestingly enough though, they are also foods that Dr. Kruse and Dr. Cordain recommend folks with autoimmune genotypes avoid. Now all I have to ascertain is which is causing the problem for her: the thiols or our family history of autoimmunity. Probably wouldn’t hurt to eliminate the thiol foods, now that we are off the autoimmune foods, and see if she improves even more. Thanks for sharing your experience! Please share how it works for your daughter this time around.

  4. You know, if there is a mutation in the CBS gene, then there could be a problem with sulfation. Dr. Amy Yasko mentioned this to me (she works with Autistic children in the field of Nutrigenomics.) Now this is about Down Syndrome, however if your daughter has a mutation in this pathway, it can cause a problem with detoxification. Here is what Dr. Amy said in an email to me:

    I do believe that the place where Down’s and autism come together is with respect to the CBS gene. Those with Down’s have an extra copy of the CBS gene causing overall increased CBS activity. Several of the SNPs that I use on my panel are for specific mutations in the CBS gene that causes over activity. Those with Down’s have about a 150 fold increase in activity while those with ie CBS C699T would only have about a 10 to 40 fold increase in activity, however my approach would be the same in both cases.

    If you read up on the approach I take for CBS C699T mutations it would be analogous to the approach I would suggest you consider for Down’s. As always you do want to work with and defer to your doctor, I can only make suggestions for you to implement with your own doctor. Having said that I will briefly explain why addressing increased CBS activity should be a help in my opinion.

    CBS sits like a valve at the bottom on the methylation cycle. Too much CBS activity (from Down’s or certain CBS mutations) is like leaving the valve permanently open so that the methylation cycle drains out via that outlet. This can serve to deplete the methylation cycle. In addition this then increases the pressure on the SUOX gene and can cause imbalances in molybdenum, B12 and trouble with sulfite to sulfate balance as well as increase ammonia levels. While I think it is useful to have a better sense of other methylation cycle mutations (SHMT, MTR, MTRR, MTHFR), at the very least getting CBS in better balance and even using some form of short cut methylation support (PS/PE/PC + DHA) should be a positive. One way to follow CBS activity is to run regular UAA tests and look at taurine levels. If taurine is way above 50th percentile this is an indication of increased CBS activity.

    So maybe this is what is happening and why your daughter just can’t seem to handle the sulfur. I will be doing low sulfur GAPS with my daughter (dual diagnosis), so we’ll be in the trenches with you.

    Julie

    • Hi Julie,
      I have read quite a bit of Yasko’s stuff in the past. We have not done any other genetic testing though. Interestingly enough my daughter had a healing crisis about a week ago, detoxed a bunch of yeast and now can handle sulfur foods again with no apparent reactions or addiction to them. In fact I packed some yogurt for part of her lunch today and she chose to not eat it. She has been somewhat addicted to the high sulfur foods for quite a while and I can’t think of a time when she passed up getting to eat yogurt. I’m still somewhat stunned by it all and still processing what exactly happened and what it means.

  5. Hi Patty,

    I’m wondering where you found a comprehensive list of foods high in free sulfur… I have to avoid them due to my methylation issues (I’m homozygous C677T and to further Julie’s point above, likely have CBS, SOUX and/or SHMT problems, as well), but I’ve been unable to find a good list. I’d greatly appreciate your sharing.

    Thanks!
    Tara

    PS – and congrats on your daughter’s recent detox success! :)

    • This link is the one I use. It is also in the blog post. And thank you! We are all happy with her progress.

      • Thanks, Patty! Sorry I missed it in the post…I was having one of “those” days. :)

  6. Hi, great blog!
    I’m on GAPS myself and am about to embark on a low suphur variant. I was wondering if you had more to share on what you guys actually ate whilst on low-sulphur GAPS? The options seem pretty limited…

    • The options are limited. That is the fact of it. Coconut yogurt and fermented carrots for ferments. Also water kefir. For veggies we ate carrots, celery, lettuce, cucumbers, squash of all kinds, mushrooms, greens, artichokes, that’s about it I think. We don’t really eat much fruit but I don’t recall if any fruit is particularly high in sulfur. I think apples, pears, blueberries, cranberries are all fine as well as lemons and dates. Thats about it for fruit. We make baked goods with coconut flour and that is low sulfur. I don’t know about nuts or seeds.

      • Thanks Patty, that’s really helpful! Yeah, I knew it was going to be tough… I’m pretty sure fruit, nuts and seeds are ok but I sure am going to struggle without eggs and most veggies!

  7. how are you getting your protein allowance in all low/no sulphur GAPS?

    • Protein is easy since the sulfur in meats is not free sulfur which is what we have to avoid on a low sulfur diet. It is the veggies that are a problem. (and eggs and dairy of course).

  8. My clinical nutrionist put me on a low sulfur diet…. Im about 5 weeks in and have 7 more to go…. it’s HARD…… miss my chocolate, and garlic and onion…..eating out or at someones for dinner is hard ( I just eat beforehand if going to someones house) I have slipped a bit more this past week and it makes me sick to my stomach though

  9. My daughter has been on the low sulfur diet since October 2012. She is struggling with leg and arm pains. Wondering if your daughter ever struggled with this as well as the emotional.

    • No she never had any pains from the sulfur foods but in general she does not have physical symptoms (that she tells me about at least.) I don’t know if that can be a sulfur symptom or not. It is often a mineral imbalance issue which can have many causes. My dd does get “growing pains” in her legs but those happen no matter how she is eating and come and go.

  10. Thank you so much for your information!!! I was gluten free for about a year–saw improvement as first, but then the fatigue, bloating, facial and throat swelling, and brain fog returned. Then two months ago, a new chiropractor told me I have a sulfur sensitivity. It’s VERY difficult to avoid sulfur, and I fear my nutrition is suffering. (Plus I’ve read that sulfur is important in the proper functioning of the body.)
    So, my question is are there any supplements you would suggest to maintain proper nutrition while avoiding sulfur? Also, I’ve read that vitamin B12 and molybdenum taken as supplements can aid in converting sulfur to a “more tolerable” form for the body–have you used these or other supplements for this purpose?
    Thanks again for your informative article!! Best wishes!!!

  11. Hi everyone, I just found out I am CBS Homozygous along with the MTHFR heterozygous. Starting the low free sulfur diet, urgh it is hard. Interesting I have always had sensitivity to high sulfur foods, now I know why. Some things I can’t find on the food lists, are berries Ok? or Hemp protein powder, I need to replace my whey, and also black and herbal tea like chamomile? Thanks for any help, Lisa

    • Hi Lisa,
      I don’t know about either of those as far as sulfur level. I’m sorry about that. I wanted to encourage you that while my daughter needed to be on a low sulfur diet for a while she is no longer on it and no longer has the issues that she once had. That said her father and I have had the 23andme genetic testing and neither of us have the worst CBS mutation so it is likely that she is also only mildly impaired in that area. Shifting her gut flora has made a huge difference in her ability to tolerate high free thiol foods.

  12. Is ghee and organic valley butter considered sulfur?

  13. Thanks for sharing your experiences–could you share what you made for low sulfur vegetable ferments? My friend’s ND just told her that while they are working out her MTHFR protocol, she should stop consuming ferments because of the sulfur. I’m wondering if the ferments are high sulfur because they are often made with high sulfur foods, or there is something in the fermenting process itself that makes them ALL high sulfur???? My family is starting on the MTHFR protocol as well now, and starting GAPS, so I would love to get some input on this. It seems like the ferments are so integral to the healing process I hate to cut them out if I can make some low sulfur versions.

    • The issue is that most ferments are made with high sulfur foods. For my daughter I made fermented carrots and coconut milk yogurt and kefir while she was on the low sulfur diet. And yes ferments are very important for healing. Kombucha and water kefir are also low sulfur ferments.

      • I hope this thread is still active. I have been trying to follow a low sulphur diet and it’s been tough! My homeopathy dr. has given me some direction, but she claims that chicken broth is high sulfur, but she muscle tested my homemade broth and she said it tested okay for me. So now I’m not sure who and what to believe. I was wondering about ferments also, and have a batch of beet Kvass fermenting in my new anarobic jar. I’m hoping it will be okay on this diet, because they say it’s really healing to the disgestive tract. That is where my problems are, My stomach is so sensitive to so many food.

        • Fermented foods are fine on a low sulfur/thiol diet as long as the food being fermented is low sulfur. Some people get confused by meat products since meats have a lot of sulfur but it is not free sulfur and so is not an issue like free thiols are in eggs, garlic, cabbage etc.

  14. This is wonderful! I am beginning a low sulfur diet on Monday to see if it helps with my digestive issues. I will be getting my test results regarding MTHFR back in about a week and am also planning to use 23andme to see about any gene mutations. My mother, grandmother, great grandmother, and possibly even further back than that have all had migraine, digestion, thyroid, and gallbladder issues. My digestion has been the worst. Does anyone else who is sulfur intolerant have chronic constipation? I have been working on healing my gut and Neem Herbal Antibiotic seems to help, but not completely. Natural Calm Magnesium is also helpful with the constipation.

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