Sulphur dioxide (E220), sodium sulphite (E221), sodium bisulphite (E222), sodium metabisulphite (E223), potassium metabisulphite (E224), calcium sulphite (E226) and calcium bisulphite (E227) are preservatives that cause symptoms in susceptible people, and particularly in some asthmatics. They can cause wheezing, fainting and irritation of the digestive system. It has been calculated that Western people consume 1–3mg of sulphite a day, if they do not drink wine or beer, and even more if they do. Sulphites are used in medical products, like some inhalers and Epi-pens.
Sulphites are found in many foods...
These preservatives are found in dried fruit, salad, fruit salad, gelatine, garlic powder, dried ginger, molasses, sauerkraut, dried potatoes, shrimps, pickles, corn syrup, alcoholic drinks, soft drinks, fruit juice, and other foods and drinks. It is best to buy raw foods, and cook them yourself, in order to avoid additives. Tasty, healthy food does not need a lot of preparation.
And the atmosphere...
You may think you are going to breathe fresh air in the Peak District or Lake District, but these are not smokeless zones, and there is sulphite in coal smoke.
And within our bodies...
Sulphite does not just come from outside the body. We make sulphite from protein. Proteins are chains of acids called amino acids. Some of these contain sulphur. From these we make a nasty chemical called homocysteine, which can damage arteries and unborn babies. From that we make cysteine, which is useful in fighting viruses, is part of a major antioxidant, and is needed to make other compounds which keep the heart beating smoothly. However, cysteine over-excites the brain, and is involved in asthma. Having made cysteine, we convert it to sulphite.
Why do we make these toxic chemicals?
The answer is that from sulphite, which is toxic, we make sulphate, which is invaluable. Sulphate is anti-inflammatory and anti-depressant. It is needed for making stomach acid and digestive enzymes, so that we can break down the food we eat into useful components.
It keeps the gut wall healthy, so that too large fragments of food cannot pass through. If they did, it would lead to the production of antibodies, and to allergy.
It detoxifies chemicals in foods and drugs, chemicals made by the body and others from the environment. This protects us from cancer.
If we lived in the Garden of Eden, we might make enough sulphate. However, we do not make enough for life in our industrialised society. Some people are particularly bad at making it, and they tend to have chronic illnesses.
The best way to increase your sulphate is by putting a cup of Epsom salts in the bath, about one day in three. Epsom salts is the common name for magnesium sulphate. Sulphate passes through the skin into the bloodstream. Taking Epsom salts orally is not as effective, although I do suggest, if you have a sore throat, putting half a flat teaspoonful of Epsom salts BP, from the chemist’s, in a litre bottle of filtered water, and having it as four drinks at different times of the day.
Many people are short of sulphate
People with ME, chronic fatigue, depression, migraine, inflammatory bowel disease, chronic diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, arthritis, fibromyalgia, hyperactivity, autism, Parkinson’s, motor neuron disease, Alzheimer’s, lupus erythematosus, systemic primary cirrhosis of the liver, and food and chemical sensitivity are usually short of sulphate, or poor at using it. That is a lot of people who could be helped.
Getting your sulphate
We think of fruits and vegetables as healthy, and they do protect us from artery diseases. However, radishes, spinach and oranges make it difficult to transport sulphate to where it is needed, and other fruits and vegetables may be preferable. If you are allergic or sensitive to foods or other chemicals, it is important to avoid them as far as you can. You can avoid food with additives, but you cannot avoid making sulphite. It is important to make sure that you process it as efficiently as you can.
The enzyme involved in converting toxic sulphite into useful sulphate is called sulphite oxidase. Sulphite is a sulphur atom bonded to three oxygen atoms, while sulphate is sulphur plus four oxygen atoms. If sulphite oxidase doesn’t work, you suffer from too much sulphite and too little sulphate, a double whammy.
Major genetic abnormalities in this enzyme lead to severe damage to the nervous system and eyes in children. The enzyme needs enough molybdenum and vitamin B2, which is also called riboflavin. Deficiency can be detected by a cheap urine test, or else these nutrients can be taken for a trial period.
How to obtain molybdenum from food
The best dietary sources of molybdenum are red cabbage and buckwheat. Red cabbage adds colour to a salad, or it can be boiled with some leek.
Buckwheat is not a grain at all, and can be eaten by some people who are grain sensitive. It is rather solid if boiled alone, but you can boil it with white rice to make it lighter. Then add some coconut oil or butter, leek or onion, and tomato or pepper, spread it on a buttered flat tray, and bake it to make a savoury flapjack.
Alternatively you can try a Russian recipe. Boil the buckwheat with twice as much water, until the water has been absorbed. Then take off your coat! Put it on the table, cover it with paper, put the pan on the paper, wrap the coat round the pan, and leave it for an hour.
This is a variation on how we used to cook polenta for hundreds of schoolchildren in Kenya. The maizemeal was boiled and stirred in a big vat, until it was nearly cooked. We then turned off the gas and left it to continue cooking until dinner-time.
The best molybdenum supplement is molybdenum amino acid chelate, which sadly the European Union plans to ban, probably because the supplement companies have not tried hard enough to convince the authorities of its importance. I certainly plan to stock up on it for my own use.
I have published clinical research showing that it can improve general health and reduce aches and pains. There are plenty of vitamin B2 supplements. The main thing is to ensure that you do not take a supplement including boron, a mineral that is toxic, because it causes vitamin B2 to be excreted.
Like many things, sulphate is good in the right place, and harmful in the wrong one.
Some undigested protein reaches the large intestine. Those amino acids that contain sulphur provide sulphate for certain bacteria, which make hydrogen sulphide out of it.
An enzyme called rhodenase should remove this hydrogen sulphide. If you are short of rhodenase, the hydrogen sulphide can damage the cells of the colon wall, causing ulcerative colitis.
Meat, fish and eggs are good for most people, but if you lack rhodenase, you are better off without them, because they contain a lot of sulphur amino acids.
It is a pity that people have their colons removed, because no one has suggested they try a meat, fish and egg-free diet. If you do try this diet, it is a good idea to take some fish oil, and if you like the taste of meat, you can always use meat fat in your cooking.
Epsom salt baths are important for people with ulcerative colitis. They deliver sulphate to the gut wall via the bloodstream. What is to be avoided is sulphate delivered via the contents of the gut.
Some people have digestive symptoms if they take glucosamine sulphate for their aches and pains. It is better for them to take n-acetyl glucosamine, which may be labelled NAG.
In the past, sulphite was something we made in our bodies, but it was only one of the steps towards producing the sulphate we needed. Now many people consume sulphite from various foods and drinks, and their capacity to process it is inadequate. As with any allergy or intolerance, it is not enough to reduce your exposure. You also need to make yourself less susceptible. Nutrition is a powerful tool, but it needs to be targeted carefully at a particular problem.
You can find Margaret at the Nutrition and Allergy Clinic in Stockport, UK
First published in 2009
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