Faulty Sulfation

If the biochemistry of sulfation and methylation are too complex or (like calculus in high school) just aren’t relevant or interesting to your daily life, here’s all you need to know about it.  To see many details on sulfation/methylation (including biochemistry) to keep up with your DAN! doctor(s), and phenol protocols, read Nourishing Hope

One of the reasons we seek to best understand sulfation and methylation is that it explains so much of autistic spectrum disorders.  The impaired biochemical processes of sulfation (or transsulfuration) and methylation (or transmethylation) layout a framework that appears to create a detailed picture of much of what ails those with ASDs. Work done by one of the leading researchers in this field, Rosemary Waring of England, has found that in several studies between 73% to 92% of those with ASDs have disordered sulfation chemistry (based on the various studies).  With such a high percentage of the population affected and the biochemistry fitting with what we see clinically, it is a crucial area to be aware of.  Understanding these biochemical processes helps us comprehend the complex chain of genetic, environmental, and biochemical factors that affect those with autism. 

Methylation and sulfation are required for many of the systems and processes we all need daily, and are the same systems that are impaired with ASDs.  Understanding the basics can help us piece together what systems are not functioning well, why, and how to support them.  These processes include:

  • Detoxification
  • Heavy metal elimination
  • Digestion
  • Immune function
  • Cellular/metabolic function
  • Gut integrity
  • Microbial balance

By understanding these complex chemical processes, we can begin to better troubleshoot and address why certain reactions may be occurring and which nutrients to supplement.  In addition to adding nutrients that are vital to these biochemical cascades, we also want to address and remove toxins that overburden the systems, such as offending foods, environmental chemicals, and microorganisms that create toxins.

So what causes faulty sulfation? 

While there is no single answer to this because of bioindividuality and the need for more research, genetics appears to play a role as we see many common disorders running in families.  Additionally, mercury and other heavy metals appear to damage this cascade.


Phenols and PST

Phenols, such as artificial food ingredients, salicylates (naturally found in fruits and vegetables), and phenolic amines such as dopamine and serotonin are processed by the enzyme PST and the sulfation pathway. The Feingold Diet is very helpful for those with faulty sulfation.

Phenolsulfotransferase (PST) is an enzyme that processes sulfur compounds namely phenols – hence the name phenol-sulfo-tranferase.  It is used to process phenols such as artificial food ingredients, salicylates (naturally found in fruits and vegetables), and phenolic amines such as dopamine and serotonin.  Dr. Feingold recognized that this process was not working correctly in children with ADHD when they were unable to process artificial ingredients and foods high in phenols.


Signs and Symptoms

It’s important to know the signs of phenol intolerance, or poor processing of phenols.  These reactions (unlike food intolerances) come on pretty quickly, typically 20 minutes to 2 hours after consumption.  Some of the most common include: hyperactivity, fatigue, inappropriate laughter, red cheeks and ears, aggression, self-injurious behavior, impatience, poor sleeping habits, headaches, and poor neuro-muscular function.  However, be aware that many of these can be signs of other imbalances. A few of the most obvious are inappropriate laughter  (often seen with yeast overgrowth), self-injurious behavior and aggression, which are often seen with gluten and casein opiates, etc.  As it can be confusing, take all of the signs, symptoms, and reactions into consideration when trying to determine if phenols are an issue.

Currently, there is no test to directly determine phenol intolerance or faulty sulfation.  I suggest a combination of physical, biochemical, behavioral, and cognitive sign/symptoms to get a sense as to whether reducing phenols and addressing sulfation may be helpful. Reactions to foods and substances are the first things to look for - any obvious reaction to artificial ingredients and other strong chemical phenols like Tylenol.  Next, look for unusual or extreme cravings for natural salicylates like apples and grapes.  A few examples that I have heard in my practice from parents should help illustrate this: inconsolable tantrum after consumption of colored sprinkles on birthday cake, extreme aggression from consumption of candy sweetened with grape juice, and consumption of only apple juice as a beverage.

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