Sulfur in human nutrition and applications in medicine

Altern Med Rev. 2002 Feb;7(1):22-44.


Because the role of elemental sulfur in human nutrition has not been studied extensively, it is the purpose of this article to emphasize the importance of this element in humans and discuss the therapeutic applications of sulfur compounds in medicine. Sulfur is the sixth most abundant macromineral in breast milk and the third most abundant mineral based on percentage of total body weight. The sulfur-containing amino acids (SAAs) are methionine, cysteine, cystine, homocysteine, homocystine, and taurine. Dietary SAA analysis and protein supplementation may be indicated for vegan athletes, children, or patients with HIV, because of an increased risk for SAA deficiency in these groups. Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), a volatile component in the sulfur cycle, is another source of sulfur found in the human diet. Increases in serum sulfate may explain some of the therapeutic effects of MSM, DMSO, and glucosamine sulfate. Organic sulfur, as SAAs, can be used to increase synthesis of S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), glutathione (GSH), taurine, and N-acetylcysteine (NAC). MSM may be effective for the treatment of allergy, pain syndromes, athletic injuries, and bladder disorders. Other sulfur compounds such as SAMe, dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO), taurine, glucosamine or chondroitin sulfate, and reduced glutathione may also have clinical applications in the treatment of a number of conditions such as depression, fibromyalgia, arthritis, interstitial cystitis, athletic injuries, congestive heart failure, diabetes, cancer, and AIDS. Dosages, mechanisms of action, and rationales for use are discussed. The low toxicological profiles of these sulfur compounds, combined with promising therapeutic effects, warrant continued human clinical trails.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids, Essential / therapeutic use*
  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use
  • Arteriosclerosis / therapy
  • Chondroitin Sulfates / therapeutic use
  • Diet
  • Dimethyl Sulfoxide / therapeutic use
  • Glucosamine / therapeutic use
  • Glutathione Transferase / therapeutic use
  • HIV Infections / therapy
  • Humans
  • Muscle Fatigue
  • Sulfur / physiology
  • Sulfur / therapeutic use*
  • Thioctic Acid / therapeutic use


  • Amino Acids, Essential
  • Antioxidants
  • Sulfur
  • Thioctic Acid
  • Chondroitin Sulfates
  • Glutathione Transferase
  • Glucosamine
  • Dimethyl Sulfoxide