By: Dr. John Bagnulo, Director of Nutrition
Special thanks to Stephanie Seneff, Anthony Samsel, Robert M. Davidson, and Glyn Wainwright.
A novel hypothesis for atherosclerosis as a cholesterol sulfate deficiency syndrome. Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling (2015) 12:9
Garlic is world-renowned for its ability to alter several physiological processes. Whether it is blood pressure or inflammation, this pungent allium vegetable delivers time and time again in each clinical trial. In fact, no other vegetable comes close to the number of research papers published as garlic has. There are numerous phytonutrients involved, such as alliin and allicin. Many of these phytonutrients have antimicrobial properties as well— so long as they are not heated or treated with an acid (vinegar) prior to consumption. The most obvious reason for garlic’s positive influence on health, however, is its robust sulfur content.
Sulfur is the primary ingredient required for the process of sulfation. This is an addition of sulfur that can assist with neutralizing oxidative stress through redox reactions thereby protecting aspects of our physiology from the damage associated with carbohydrate metabolism and from metabolism in general. Sulfation also creates free-moving molecules with an ability to travel in both water and fat-soluble forms. This allows for certain molecules to have ubiquitous presence in protecting cell compartments from various insults. Cholesterol and vitamin D are two major molecules, both hotly debated as to the levels required for good health, which require sulfated forms for optimal function. There is great evidence that the disparity in research regarding these and the levels associated with such things as risk for specific diseases and longevity, may be more a function of how much they are sulfated as opposed to total, non-sulfated serum concentrations.
For sulfation to occur, it has to be driven by either sunlight (reacting with the sulfates on our skin and thereby attaching it to the cholesterol located there for further transport throughout the body) or the cytochrome p450 enzyme, eNOS (endothelial nitric oxide synthetase). With deficiencies in either sunlight or sulfur, major problems start to develop for the individual. Non-sulfated cholesterol is dependent upon lipoprotein transports (LDLs) and robust quantities of proteins that then help them dock at the appropriate place and work at collection rather than distribution (like Apo E, etc.). Non-sulfated vitamin D, while still beneficial for transporting calcium, lacks the ability to act as an effective anti-inflammatory and antioxidative molecule. Its role in countless endocrine pathways and immune supporting activities are greatly limited.
Where do we find the lowest rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, and most forms of cancer? The answer: in areas of the world where there is an abundance of available UV-B-containing sunlight. Northern latitudes may have ample sunlight, but UV-B is generally absent for several months of the year. These lower latitude areas have been shown to offer significantly lower levels of risk for all of these conditions. (Source)
Michael Holick, PhD, one of the leading experts on vitamin D metabolism and its role in health, has published hundreds of papers on this topic as it relates to the aforementioned diseases. The type of vitamin D that we make when the cholesterol in our skin is exposed to UV-B is sulfated vitamin D. This is very different than the vitamin D found in your supplement or fortified food. Sulfated vitamin D can reach areas of our cellular compartments that the non-sulfated form cannot.
The relationship between the sulfur content of a population’s soil, their diet, and their line of latitude gets even more interesting…
Countries with high sulfur-containing diets (not just garlic, but also seafood, eggs, onions, leeks, brassica vegetables, and raw milk – unpasteurized milk is the only food that contains sulfated vitamin D) or that live in areas with more recent histories of volcanic activity (soil contains more volcanic material, which is a major source of environmental sulfur and vegetables grown in this soil have far greater amounts of sulfur) have equally low rates of inflammatory-based, neurodegenerative, and other diseases (for instance Iceland, the state of Oregon in the US, areas of Italy). When populations get both the high dietary sulfur and the sunlight with UV-B, the results are even more suggestive: the lowest rates of most diseases with similar underlying mechanisms. Countries like Japan, Greece, and the state of Hawaii have had, historically, the lowest rates in the developed world.
There are factors other than deficiencies in sunlight, eggs, or garlic that can play major roles in developing a hyposulfation syndrome. Heavy metals like lead, aluminum, and mercury can significantly alter the activity of the eNOS enzyme. Exposure to these heavy metals can, in a matter of just a few months, start to greatly undermine an individual’s immune function. This could explain why lead toxicity in children and mercury toxicity in most individuals drive the list of food allergies and intolerances upward. Also, it might explain why so many of these individuals develop severe fungal or other myco-infections that inhabit the gut. Reduced eNOS activity greatly compromises detoxification efforts but also has major detrimental effects on the integrity and protection of the host’s intestinal tract. Leaky and susceptible GIs result from numerous insults that range from the zonulin released in response to gliadin to the lack of breast milk (again, sulfated forms of cholesterol and vitamin D are in breast milk, but are ABSENT in infant formulas). A lack of sulfated cholesterol creates a very weakened and susceptible brush border in the GI.
Glyphosates (RoundUp®) are also extremely destructive to the cytochrome p450 eNOS enzyme. Dietary exposure is at an all time high with recent investigations showing that most of us carry significant levels in our blood. If you couple these factors, such as high GMO consumption, with the use of sunscreens (made worse by ingredients like aluminum nanoparticles in their formulas), a general aversion to sunlight and the outdoors, and the avoidance of high cholesterol foods for fear that they contribute to heart disease, you start to see the magnitude of the problem. It is both daunting and hopeful. If we respect physiology and the biochemistry that defines how we maintain health at a cellular level we can easily identify where the system is broken. Enjoy high cholesterol, high sulfur containing foods as part of your daily diet. Try to avoid burning and browning these foods. Enjoy the sun and ditch the sunscreens with heavy metals like aluminum in them. Eat only non-GMO foods, leaving the low fat, refined versions and instead opting for the full fat, whole, organic versions whenever possible.
Dr. John Bagnulo is the Director of Nutrition at Functional Formularies and leads nutrition research and development initiatives. Learn more about Dr. Bagnulo here.