042: How Sulfur Can Trigger Skin Rashes w/ Christa Biegler

The inability to properly convert sulfur to sulfate can cause many problems in the body, one of which is problems with the skin. Today's guest is here to share some important information about the root causes of sulfur sensitivity, and short-term solutions.

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My guest today, Christa Biegler is host of the Less Stressed Life podcast and has an integrative nutrition private practice focusing on skin, digestive, autoimmune and allergy issues.

She started The Less Stressed Life as a play on words for anti-inflammatory life. She lives with her unicycling husband and kids in the rural Midwest.

Join us as we talk about how sulfur can trigger skin rashes.

Do you have trouble converting sulfur? Tell me about it in the comments!


In this episode:

  • Cell sulfur metabolism
  • What to do if you are not converting to sulfate
  • Short-term solutions to help with sulfur conversion
  • Possible root causes


“What is sulfur metabolism? Sulfur is basically one of the most important mineral elements in the body, right? So your body uses it for all types of processes, but it needs to get converted to sulfate basically. And we don't want to have this hydrogen sulfide in too big of amounts.” [3:01]

“Poor detoxification is going to lead to feeling just absolutely ridiculously awful, like beyond awful. Then if Tylenol makes you feel better, that might be a piece because that can lower the hydrogen sulfide that's causing the symptoms possibly.” [9:30]

“It's thought that possibly glyphosate could make a difference as well or could damage [sulfur metabolism] as well, which of course is a chemical that's used to kill to kill weeds on different grains.” [17:40]



Find Christa online

The Less Stressed Life podcast

Mo-zyme Forte by Biotics

Healthy Skin Show episode about skin irritants with Lily Mazzarella

Christa's free online training

Christa's guide of things not to do if you have a child with eczema

Follow Christa on Facebook ǀ Instagram


042: How Sulfur Can Trigger Skin Rashes w/ Christa Biegler FULL TRANSCRIPT

Jennifer: Hey everyone. Welcome back to the Healthy Skin Show. Today I've got a guest with me. I'm very excited to continue extrapolating upon this conversation that we had a number of episodes ago with Lily Mazzerella and we'll put that podcast in the show notes for today, in the event that you missed that episode and want to go back and hear what we began with this conversation around sulfur and skin issues. My guest today is Christa Biegler. She's the host of the Less Stressed Life podcast and has an integrative nutrition private practice focusing on skin, digestive, autoimmune, and allergy issues. She also, by the way, is a super nerd and I love her for it. It is truly amazing all of the information that she embodies and loves to share and so I feel really, really excited to have her here. She started the Less Stressed Life as a play on words for the anti inflammatory life. She lives with her unicycling husband and kids, rural Midwest. Christa, thank you so much for joining us.

Christa: Thank you so much for having me, Jen.

Jennifer: I know you have a great kind of story to kick this example off, cause we want to talk about the sulfur issue here. And this has played out in your clinical practice a number of times, so why don't you dive in?

Christa: Yeah, sure. Well, so let's talk about cell sulfur metabolism and maybe that doesn't mean anything to anyone, but if you have fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, those are really commonly associated with this issue in the literature. So I had this lady come to me who had fibromyalgia and she said that it was very well controlled, right? So she's had this issue for maybe 30 years. And I think when someone's had an issue for 20 or 30 years, you know, you can chime in here too if you think, but I think when you've had an issue for 20 or 30 years and when it's kind of been a little bit crazy and hard and tumultuous, it makes the, what we would maybe call the constitution or like sensitivity and makes you more, almost more fragile, I feel like a little bit. And we have to kind of do things a little bit more delicately.

Christa: So she came to me for a skin rash on the back of her neck and basically, long story short, so came with fibromyalgia but didn't want help with fibromyalgia, said, I think this is fine, uh, but has this skin rash, it's really driving her crazy. So we get into things, right? We changed her diet, just barely, it's not really doing what we wanted to do. We look at some things going on in the gut and basically figuring out that you've got a sulfur metabolism issue and I'll explain what it is in a minute. It's kind of a process of elimination. It doesn't just say hello, here I am. It's a process of elimination. Like, okay, so are you reacting to XYZ foods that have a lot of sulfur? Maybe do you have now, not everyone's got these resources, but one of the things that helped us figure out that this was an issue for this woman was the patterns of bacteria that were showing up.

Christa: What is sulfur metabolism? Sulfur is basically one of the most important mineral elements in the body, right? So your body uses it for all types of processes, but it needs to get converted to sulfate basically. And we don't want to have this hydrogen sulfide in too big of amounts. I think Jennifer, you guys have talked a lot about SIBO, or small intestinal bacteria overgrowth, quite a bit on the podcast, right? This is supposed to be maybe like a third form of it kind of unofficially. So we've got usually with SIBO, you look at hydrogen and methane and this is kind of considered a different one. We actually don't really have testing for it to my knowledge yet. And so basically where you're also going to see it be an issue.

Christa: This might be related, this might trigger some lights on for people if someone is treated for SIBO or bacteria imbalances and then it pops right back. So it seems like the symptoms go away, but they just can't ever get over it. Then you would suspect this as well because essentially you've got this excessive amount of sulfur that's not getting converted, that's feeding the bacteria. They want to eat that sulfur. So because sulfur is supposed to get converted to sulfate via this enzyme process, and it's not happening that that process is broken. And so basically you've got too much of this sulfur going around and it's feeding this bad bacteria, these specific bad bacteria. And so, yeah, so maybe if you work on killing them for a while, it looks like you get better and then it pops back and it gets worse.

Christa: I don't want you to overthink this if this isn't you, but I want you to think, hey, maybe it's more of an issue than what you realize. My point is, is that this is a little bit of a complicated one, right? And sometimes we want to just say, Hey, I'm really complicated. And I think that that can be a thing. But just kind of wanted to mention. Let's talk about where you can kind of see it otherwise. Right. So we've got sulfur is, it's really important to get it through all these foods and actually you need, the tricky thing is you need it.

Christa: Like you really, really need this on purpose, right? It's one of those most abundant things that's in foods. It needs to get converted into sulfate with this enzyme activity, but for some reason the process is broken. Okay. So then you got things that aren't converting to the proper form. So it just makes you feel yucky, right? Very crappy. Maybe joint pain, et cetera. So maybe some other signs, maybe. Maybe that sulfurous smelling gas, right? That rotten egg gas. So that helps me tell you about the foods that are high in sulfur. Because the first thing that someone would consider if this was happening to them would be removing the sulfur that they're taking in. Because if you can't convert it to sulfate, you have to remove how much you're taking in to get short term relief. Right? That's not the long-term answer, but short term relief.

Christa: This would be like eggs and garlic, kale and onions and just cruciferous veggies, right? With sulfur. Sulfur veggies would be all those cruciferous veggies. And man, those are so important for so many things. Fertility and detoxification, but if you can't convert them, then everything is impaired. So sulfur's important for detoxification and you can't do it well and that's impaired, then guess what happens? If you can't get rid of things, your skin's going to say, “Hey, I'll take that, I'll take that problem”. And so if you see skin issues in addition to some of the digestive stuff, right, of course I just had been skin issues go, go hand in hand for a lot of reasons. Skin on the outside, skin on the inside. But if you're seeing this and it seems like quite tricky and you've a lot of things that should work, aren't working, then it might be something to just consider a little bit.

Jennifer: And here's one of the things too. I mean, I always like to say this, we never want to demonize foods or nutrients at all. So the the whole goal, everyone who's listening is not to make you go, oh my gosh, I need to cut everything that's sulfur out of my diet. That's not what I'm saying at all. Right?

Christa: It's just a short term experiment to see if it helps with some other things that I can share as well.

Jennifer: Exactly. And so what's interesting is that this process of the sulfur being converted to sulfate, this happens in the phenol sulfotransferase pathway. Oh goodness, that is a mouthful. Phenol sulfotransferase pathway. My goodness. We'll write it out for you guys so you can, you can read it and begin to see it. For short, it's PST. Here's the question for you. For people who are saying, wait, we've got an enzyme that's not working correctly. Do you find that this is happening as a result where this enzyme, so the enzyme for all of you who are listening and not sure what an enzyme actually is, sort of like an oven. You have a recipe, you want to make bake bread for example. You need to bake it in the oven. If the oven's not working correctly, it might take a long time to make that bread. It might not even happen. So the same thing when the enzymes aren't working properly, we've got other factors that are causing an issue. Because it is complicated that can make the process of going from the ingredients, the raw ingredients to the final product, a bit of a challenge. And so your suggestion is first of all to to take these foods out, these high sulfur foods. And I would assume, because that would be the case from my perspective too, is any supplements that also includes sulfur in them, like Msm.

Christa: Yes. And so that's kind of like one of those unknown things. That's what I do as well. And it actually knocks out tons of things that knocks out or like glutamine and some other things cause those can kind of lead down that sulfur pathway too. So it's really actually tricky. This is very much a short term thing, right? Like the goal is let's resolve why we're feeding this hydrogen sulfide bacteria that's causing maybe constipation, you know, some of the symptoms that are common. But in, in this case it's, it's a little bit different root cause essentially. So you're trying to take away the food, which is, you know, the easy thing is reducing the sulfur in the diet and then help the body convert the sulfur into sulfate and then fix the root cause. So we can talk about the root cause too as well.

Christa: But let's talk about what you can do about it in the short term. And then let me put, let me put one more flag in for hey, how do you know, like there are some of those things that say, Hey, well how does this make you feel? Well then it might be a little bit of a thing as well. So if this person, if you feel like you resonate with a lot of these symptoms, so think skin issues an ammonia smell, joint pain, gas, bloating. I mean I know some of those are common with other things, et cetera. Poor detoxification is going to lead to feeling just absolutely ridiculously awful, like beyond awful. Then if Tylenol makes you feel better, that might be a piece because that can lower the hydrogen sulfide that's causing the symptoms possibly. Okay. So that's a possibility as well.

Christa: Some people, if they take Pepto-Bismol and they feel so much better as well, that is another possible sign. For some reason the bismuth in there can help with the sulfur as well. So let's talk about the few things that you can do to experiment with this to see if it immediately helps. And then, you know, you've got to dig deeper to fix the root cause cause you can't just live like this. Right. So this is the trick. That's the trickier part. So you can reduce the overall sulfur in your diet. Now let me also say that, I mean, I didn't discover this. This is like worst case scenario in a clinician's life. You really want things to just improve appropriately and beautifully and be easy. But sometimes this is where those wrenches come in and you're like, hmm, this is not improving the way we would like it to.

Christa: So we need to dig deeper and figure out if there's another piece. But I want to mention that I want to give credit where credit is due. The guy I believe, who made this very popular with Doctor Gregg Nigh. So if you're really curious about it and go find more from the expert himself a little bit. So there's three key parts here to improving it in the short term. Key part one would be the low sulfur diet, which we already talked about. You should see a big difference in two weeks. Okay? So that's Brussels sprouts, onions, garlic, eggs, you know, et cetera. Kind of mentioned some of them earlier. Okay. So number two would be you're missing sulfate (remember sulfur's not converting to sulfate cause the thing in between, the link, is not working). So you've got to give your body some sulfate.

Christa: So you can do this with Epson salt baths. That's just a magnesium sulfate, right? But it's like crazy. It's like four cups in their bath, right? So it's a lot. And you're supposed to do every day for 20 minutes. Okay. So you're doing an experiment intentionally and I kind of like, I love doing an intentional experiment. You know, if you kind of do something just barely then just expect a barely result, you know? So you need to kind of do it as recommended if you're trying to actually see the benefit. Right? So the four cups of this Epson salt and your salt bath, seven days in a row, 20 minutes. And then third would be to add in molybdenum. That is a hard word. How do I describe it? It's basically an essential mineral and how I would, what I would say that's most relevant in this case is it's kind of a bridge in that missing link. So the missing link is that sulfur isn't converting to sulfate and it kind of helps. It helps try to bridge that. It's like a short term or temporary bridge. Essentially. The tricky thing about molybdenum is I don't believe like in my wheelhouse, there's not really testing for that to my knowledge really. It's kind of like on suspicion or knowing genetics, et cetera. So like people use it for x, Y, Z symptoms. But in this case it kind of helps bridge things. So how much do you actually use? You're looking for a 150 micrograms twice a day. So there is a product by Biotics, Mo-zyme Forte, that's what Doctor Gregg and I recommend that works. But there's other molybdenum as well. So 150 micrograms twice a day. So those three things, if you don't see an improvement then you can move on. Probably. Cause this might not be your issue, but if that causes a significant improvement, then it's time to dig in and reverse the root. Like why is my body not converting the sulfur to sulfate? Like it should. Why is the normal process not happening.

Jennifer: And that's the most frustrating thing is it's like what's my body doing? Like why can't it get its act together and actually do what it needs to do. Because as you said, we do need sulfur not, and this is even far beyond the skin. I mean, you need it for glutathione, which is really important for your detox systems. It's such an important part of many things. And interestingly enough too, I just want to also mention that salicylates can impair this conversion as well. So if you have an issue where you really can't process salicylates and that happens in the liver, um, that can also be a factor in this. So it is complicated.

Christa: None of this is probably one of the hardest things to describe. This is not simple.

Jennifer: And we apologize if perhaps are throwing a lot at you, but we also wanted to get this information out there because for those of you who recognize that there may be some dietary connection, some of you may be very frustrated. You've tried a lot of elimination diets, they don't seem to work and people don't seem to talk enough about some of these other reasons where there are “intolerance”, so to speak, so that you can have a sulfur intolerance or a salicylate intolerance. But a lot of times it's not necessarily that you can't digest them like we think of like gluten or dairy intolerance or an egg sensitivity to these things. It's not like that this is different. It's the biochemical processes in the body aren't operating in the optimal way that they need to in order to support you.

Jennifer: And so that's where this becomes more complicated and where it can be difficult to figure it out on your own. Even when I look at the flow charts of this biochemical process, it's a lot to take in. And I mean, I'm sure Christa, you and I both have probably had a lot of experience looking at biochemical flowcharts, you know? So for someone to do this on your own, just so you know, don't feel like you're supposed to know this stuff. You're not. That's why we wanted to start having this conversation because it's really important. So let's talk about some of those root causes of why this is happening.

Christa: Yeah. And I want to piggyback on what you just said there, because I think even a good clinician, even when they feel stuck, they get help from experts, right? They asked for another set of eyes. And so part of how I originally found this, it was having someone look through a history with me. Because usually if you look back through a history and you do a good job doing it, you'll start to find the holes or the patterns or the, or the in. Sometimes you get a little tube microscopic or like if you're dealing with, with these issues, right? You're in the middle of it, you're in the thick of it so much that it's hard to like zoom out and see the big picture, um, to an extent. So, so you got to keep that in mind. You can be microscopic, but you also have to be macroscopic and be able to look at the big picture to move, to move it all the way forward.

Christa: So I will just mention a little bit more about sulfur and then let me talk about why this happens. So I mean, if you think about it, a sulfur intolerance was kind of this older concept a little bit because some people had, they were allergic to Sulfa or sulfur based medications. All their well water, they're familiar with that rotten egg smell with the, with the water on, right? So you're familiar with sulfur in kind of life in general, right? Isn't gonna like put that tangible thought there, but where are we getting this link where sulfur's not converting to sulfate? So it's thought that it could be in a couple of buckets. It could be possibly a first bucket nutrient deficiency. Primarily the molybdenum that I already mentioned because that helps the enzymes do their conversion, basically.

Christa: So that's kind of one of them, maybe with some Bs as well. And then also so it could be a multitude of deficiencies, but if you've kind of ruled that out, then we're looking at toxicity, which could be, so environmental toxins that could damage pathways. Right. And so this is a little trickier because this could be mercury, aluminum, cadmium. So where would you get maybe some of these things and mercury's possibly from fillings maybe, especially if someone's had those in there for a long, long time and maybe they're leaking, right? Aluminum maybe cooking with aluminum, aluminum cans, etc. Very frequently everyone's got, I don't think that you just like automatically get this. I think that you've already got a mounting problem and this kind of like tips things over essentially, right? Like you're already weak, you're already, you've already used up some of the nutrients that help with detoxification. And then it's almost like this just overly taxes things.

Christa: And then also it's thought that possibly glyphosate could make a difference as well or could damage that as well, which of course is a chemical that's used to kill to kill weeds on different grains. So those are some reasons that you might have impaired sulfur metabolism. So to correct that, you know, it's a little bit tricky and I would say it's not simple to explain, right? Yeah. So nutrient deficiencies, you can try to replete even a nutrient deficiency, you sort of have to back up to the step before it and say, why do you have this deficiency? You know, kind of like when people have a B 12 deficiency. Great. So you have a B12 deficiency. Why, you know, how does, how is B 12 absorbed, you know, all those things. So, so those are kind of some of the possibilities, right?

Christa: If someone has really dealing with a lot of issues, I really, I hate when I have to get into this stuff because a lot of people have either address this or it becomes, you know, in my practice it's not, it hasn't been a huge, huge issue. But you know, this kind of makes you think, well maybe you have to address those, those fillings at this point. Maybe they're not serving you at this point. Maybe they're degrading and leaking and causing issues. Right. It's not necessarily in my scope of practice. Right. That's when I want to make sure that you're working with someone who's really good and knows what they're doing in that in that way. But these are the pieces that could be at play with sulfur metabolism issues.

Jennifer: And I wanted to ask really quick, you mentioned Sulfa drugs. Is that something, if somebody notices that they have an allergy to Sulfur, is that something that should set off a, a little bit of a red flag?

Christa: Yeah. It's not just, it's not definitive, but I come back up like this and say overall if you have this sulfur metabolism issue, you're going to detox really poorly. And if you notice that you're having reactions to certain classes of medications, you're not eliminating them properly either. So it's a possibility. Right? I mean how many check marks can you check right in the box. So it's a possibility it can contribute to it. It's not, you know, in in expert data, it's not clearly definitive from what I've seen.

Jennifer: Yeah. And this stuff is, again, this is complicated everyone and it's my hope that this will not be the first and only time that we're really going to dive into this because I recognize for us to cram all of this into such a short format, it's a challenge. However, I think that we've given you a good frame of reference, a good overview and then hopefully to, I, you know, I always love to have guests come back cause Christa is a wealth of knowledge. But I would like to continue to unpack this topic as well as a bunch of other topics that are not talked about very much. It's interesting when I look in, a lot of them were common, just even Eczema books out there, they really brushed over a lot of these more complicated issues because it's very difficult for you guys to figure out. But if you, at least my belief is if you have more access to options and potential ideas, you could then potentially ask about it. You could find someone who could help you with it. You at least have an idea that that's even something on the table.

Jennifer: Right? So for those of you listening who may be a few weeks ago or a few months ago, whenever this podcast ends up coming out, you know, based off of that initial conversation I had with with Lily, you might've gone, wait, this is the first time ever hearing that sulfur for could be a problem. So now you might have a better understanding of why. And I found that the more I'm exposed to something, the more comfortable I get with it. And the more I better understand it and the more educated have a conversation that I can have and that's ultimately the goal. So Christa, obviously we would love to have you come back, so I hope that we can make that happen and talk about more topics like this, but I also want to encourage everybody to go and check out your podcast. I know that I have, I have been a guest on your podcast, which I'm incredibly grateful for. It's called the Less Stressed Life podcast and you can find that at lessstressedlife.com and you can also find Christa over at lessstressednutrition.com and Christa, do you have anything for folks if they head over there, like any good resources that you would love for them to check out?

Christa: Sure. So on the top of the website, there's a free training about the four things that you have to address before you're going to resolve skin or digestive or autoimmune issues. And then down lower on the website. If you have children with skin issues, there's a quick sheet on things that you should make sure you're not doing if you've got kids with skin issues that are commonly recommended in the dermatology world.

Jennifer:  That is awesome. Goodness you are, as I said, you are just a great mind and I really appreciate that you've been willing to join us and I look forward to having future conversations with you.

Christa: Thanks so much.

"What is sulfur metabolism? Sulfur is basically one of the most important mineral elements in the body, right? So your body uses it for all types of processes, but it needs to get converted to sulfate basically. And we don't want to have this hydrogen sulfide in too big of amounts."

Jennifer Fugo, MS, CNS

Jennifer Fugo, MS, CNS is an integrative Clinical Nutritionist and the founder of Skinterrupt. She works with women who are fed up with chronic gut and skin rash issues discover the root causes and create a plan to get them back to a fuller, richer life.

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