Headaches, Body Pain, Bloating: The Hydrogen Sulphide Link

Dec 14, 2022

Not many people are aware that they’re eating food rich in sulfur every day. Most people are fine with these foods, but some individuals can develop a sensitivity to sulfur, leading to symptoms such as burning pain/body pain, ammonia smell, bloating, and many more.

Understanding how sulfur interacts with our body is key to understanding why sensitivity occurs - and how best to treat it. 


But first, what is Hydrogen Sulphide?

Let’s make it quick and simple. Organic sulfur is required in living tissue, in order for the body to function optimally. You can get this externally through food. But hydrogen sulphide is also produced inside the body by certain chemical reactions, causing hydrogen sulphide gases. This is natural and normal. However, when there is too much hydrogen sulphide, the body cannot clear sulfur very effectively, leading to a build up and sensitivity to sulfur-containing foods.


Symptoms of Sulfur Sensitivity

Could you be suffering from sulfur sensitivity? Here are some common symptoms:

  • Extreme sensitivity to alcohol
  • Flushing
  • Headaces
  • Swelling
  • Ammonia smell
  • Burning pain/body pain (H2S)
  • Bladder pain (H2S)
  • Weight gain
  • Feeling “toxic”
  • Gas, bloating, diarrhoea


What are The Root Causes of Sulfur Sensitivity?

There are a variety of factors that influence your capacity to metabolise sulfur. Some of the root causes, that we know of, are:


Gut Dysbiosis - is a term used to describe an imbalance in the microbial composition of the gut microbiome. This alteration of the gut microbial environment has been linked to various health concerns, including hydrogen sulfide sensitivity. There is a specific type of bacteria - Desulfovibrio piger - that is part of your flora, and in small amounts is normal and healthy. But when it overgrows in the large intestines, it becomes pathogenic, emitting high amounts of hydrogen sulphide. 


Hydrogen Sulphide SIBO - Hydrogen sulphide bacteria can also overgrow into the small intestines. This is known as SIBO - small intestinal bacteria overgrowth. It  is a well-known contributor to the development of sulfur sensitivity. Most classical symptoms with hydrogen sulphide SIBO are abdominal pain and bloating and diarrhoea. 


Detoxification Issues - Detox issues can also lead to sulfur sensitivity. Your liver plays a major role in processing and clearing any excess hydrogen sulphide from your system. You need a good amount of sulfur-containing amino acids in your body in order for your detox pathways to work optimally. These amino acids get burned-up when your liver is struggling, and can make it very tricky to replenish if you have a sulfur sensitivity. For example, people with detox issues often need to increase their cruciferous vegetable, onion, garlic and animal protein intake, as well as supplement with amino acids such as glutathione, n-acetyl-cysteine and glycine. Unfortunately all of these are high in sulfur, which can make you feel worse if you have a sulfur sensitivity. It can become a viscous cycle - the less hydrogen sulphide you consume, the more depleted your liver becomes, the more difficult it is to clear sulfur from your body. Working with a qualified practitioner to get you out of this trapped cycle is essential. 


Heavy Metals - There is a strong affinity between sulfites and heavy metals, like mercury and lead. If your detox pathways aren’t working very well (see point above), heavy metals can get stuck in your fat tissues, leading to a sensitivity to sulfur. 


Preservatives - Sulfite is a common preservative found in processed foods and some supplements. Too make exposure to this preservative can lead to mast cell degranulation, where your immune cells release proinflammatory chemicals. For some people, this release of chemicals becomes excessive, causing sensitivities to hydrogen sulphide and other chemicals like histamine, oxalates and salicylates.  

Nervous System Dysregulation - I’ve left the most important (and deepest root cause!) to last. None of the previous body system imbalances could occur unless the nervous system has become dysregulated.  There are TWO reasons why the nervous system becomes dysregulated. One is systemic inflammation (i.e. the points above). And the other reason is deep-seated dysfunctional beliefs. Beliefs like: I can’t heal, I’m not good enough, my body’s weak, I’m broken, I’m unlovable, I’m incapable, etc, etc. It is often these deep-seated beliefs stuck in our subconscious state, right back from when you were a little girl or boy, that have led to your body burnout in the first place. Until this side of the nervous system dysregulation is healed, it will be extremely difficult to fully heal physically. And if you do, the results will likely only be short-term.


Is Eating Foods High in Sulfur Bad?

I believe a healthy body should be able to eat all healthy foods, including foods high in hydrogen sulphide. Buuuut….if you are displaying signs of sulfur sensitivity, I would advise reducing your hydrogen sulphide consumption for a short time while you restore balance to the body. 

How To Use A Low Hydrogen Sulphide Diet For Therapy

If you're showing symptoms of sulfur sensitivity, I’d encourage using a low hydrogen sulphide diet to assess if your symptoms improve. If they do, it’s highly likely you have a sulfur sensitivity, in which case you would continue using this diet to treat and reset metabolic pathways as you work on root causes.


Here are some foods high in hydrogen sulphide to avoid for 4-6 weeks:

Foods High in Hydrogen Sulphide 

  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Mustard greens
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Eggs
  • Red meats
  • Dairy products
  • Sulfite preservative


Supplements High in Sulfur

Various organic sulfur-containing amino acids, such as methionine and cysteine, can be found in many dietary supplements. You’ll want to make sure you avoid these supplements while you’re trialling the low-hydrogen sulphide diet:

  • Cysteine
  • Methionine
  • Taurine
  • Glutathione
  • Alpha lipoic acid
  • Glucosamine sulfate
  • Methylsulfonylmethane


Low-Hydrogen Sulphide Meal Plans

Wondering what to eat? We’ve got you covered! My team has created a bunch of meal plans and recipes for the low-hydrogen sulphide diet and many other short-term healing diets, which can be accessed in our Ending Body Burnout Method. 


If you have avoided sulfur-rich foods for 4-6-weeks and feel no improvement in symptoms, gradually reintroduce the foods. As long as there are no flare-ups, you can safely assume that you’re not sulfur-sensitive. However, if there are improvements to your symptoms, you should remain on the diet while treating your underlying concerns.


I’d highly recommend working with a practitioner to help address underlying causes, so you don’t get “stuck” on a restrictive diet long-term. If you need help, feel free to book in for a free discovery call. Or if you’re a keen-bean, you can jump right into a “Connect The Dots” Initial Consult with me here.



Author: Filipa Bellette, PhD.

Filipa Bellette is Co-Founder of Chris & Filly Functional Medicine. She is an accredited Clinical Nutritionist & Functional Medicine Practitioner. She is also a Ph.D. thought-leader, award-winning writer, and regularly published as a guest blogger & in the media. Together with her husband Chris Bellette, Filipa has worked with over 2,000+ busy, burnout clients in the last 10+ years, and specialises in producing healthy, balanced, and happy Mums & Dads...or as she calls it, a Power Parent! Filipa’s own passion for producing high-performance Power Parents came from her own personal experience of Mummy Burnout, after having babies and juggling the demands of business, family, and her failing health.

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