My friend, Noelia, turned me on to Dr. Seneff (professor at MIT) when they both were at the 2011 Weston A. Price conference. At the same time, Dr. Mercola featured her in his emails: Stephanie Seneff on Sulfur. This is a great video interview, but lengthy, so I listened to a segment a day. There is lots of great information and lots of speculation, but compelling speculation that makes you think. So I went to Stephanie Seneff's Home Page to learn more and ultimately contacted her with my questions about her work. She was very generous and gracious in her answers. Our email exchange is below:
Even after the exchange, I am not comfortable giving up our emulsified D3 supplement, but she has me thinking and learning bigger than ever.
Here is our exchange:
Dear Dr. Seneff,
Unfortunately I was unable to attend this year's Weston A. Price conference, but I am so glad that you provided the interview with Dr. Mercola this Fall.
I have a question in relation to your interview with Dr. Mercola, part of which is summarized below by him, with my question following.
"This is where sun exposure enters the picture. When you expose your skin to sunshine, your skin synthesizes vitamin D3 sulfate. This form of vitamin D is water soluble, unlike oral vitamin D3 supplements, which is unsulfated. The water soluble form can travel freely in your blood stream, whereas the unsulfated form needs LDL (the so-called "bad" cholesterol) as a vehicle of transport.
Her suspicion is that the simple oral non-sulfated form of vitamin D likely will not provide the same benefits as the vitamin D created in your skin from sun exposure, because it cannot be converted to vitamin D sulfate. This is yet another reason to really make a concerted effort to get ALL your vitamin D requirements from exposure to sunshine.
"[S]ulfate actually inactivates vitamin D," Dr. Seneff says. "The sulfated form of vitamin D does not work for calcium transport, which I find very intriguing. And in fact, I think it's the sulfated form for vitamin D that offers the protection from cancer. It strengthens your immune system. It protects you from cardiovascular disease. It's good for your brain. It helps depression. I think all of those effects of vitamin D are effects of vitamin D sulfate."
QUESTION: Both my now eight year old son and I spend one to two hours a day in direct spring and summer sun in North Carolina with no sunscreen. We have done that for the last three years. We also took fermented cod live oil with butter oil daily. My D level in July was 22 and his D level in April was 23. My Oriental Medicine doc (a WAP board member) and another doc, great paleo radiologist I know, both said that some people just don't synthesize vitamin D well. My Oriental med doc put us on emulsified D and our levels quickly came up and both he and the radiologist are fine with that. For those of us who do not seem to synthesize D well (which I believe has something to do with kidney function based on a Harvard article I read) should we be concerned about supplemental D being less effective and can we do anything to help our kidneys do their jobs? Or do we have some sort of adaptation and low D levels aren't that much of a concern? For what it is worth, my cholesterol is great by WAP standards, per my blog: http://movingstronglyforward.typepad.com/moving_strongly_forward/2011/08/cholesterol-blood-sugar-and-thyroid-oh-my.html. I imagine my LDL is on the high end of health because of this lack of D synthesis.
Any thoughts on what non-sun D producing people should do are greatly appreciated.
Thank you for all of your work and I look forward to continuing to learn from you.
I see from your blog post that you are eating what I consider to be a very healthy diet. And your numbers are great! (re cholesterol). It's very significant that you've avoided many of the health issues that your genes might predispose you to. You are a good "case study" for advocating a high-fat diet!
My current opinion is that adequate sun exposure is essential not so much for the vitamin D but rather for the cholesterol sulfate that gets produced. I have identified sulfur deficiency as a crucial component of the modern so-called "healthy low-fat" diet: particularly the sulfur that's derived from meat protein, contained in the essential amino acids, cysteine and methionine, as well as taurine, an amino-acid-like molecule.
When sulfur is deficient, the skin can not handle the exposure to UV light nearly so well. The sulfur molecules are able to take advantage of the ionizing radiation and put it to good use: the skin captures the oxygen from the air in the form of the sulfate molecule (SO4-2). Sulfate is absolutely essential to health -- it populates the extracellular matrix proteins of all the cells and keeps them healthy. It's especially important in the blood for keeping microbes at bay (and in the skin for keeping them out) which is why it appears that vitamin D builds a stronger immune system (I don't think this is correct --I think it's the sulfate that gets produced in the skin upon sunlight exposure that protects the immune system, and the vitamin D is just an indirect measure of sunlight exposure -- that is, unless you get your vitamin D predominantly from supplements).
So, in answer to your question, if I were you, I'd throw away the vitamin D supplements, but make sure to get as much sun exposure to the skin as I could, even though it does not appear to be boosting my vitamin D levels. It's doing something much more important which is to make sulfate! (this is of course a radical theory I'm proposing that has not been proven by the research community, so take that into account when making your decision about what to do). And, I am not a medical doctor.
And I'd also advise you to be sure to get enough sulfur in your diet -- this involves eating eggs, seafood, and, in terms of vegetables, onions and garlic.
Wow! I am honored that you took so much time to reply and share information. You have really helped me understand and feel better about my and my son's lack of D production.
Is it ok if I share your email with my Oriental medicine doc? Here he is on the WAP page: http://www.westonaprice.org/about-the-foundation/board-of-directors. Is it ok if I share with my paleo MD friend? Both of them push the envelope and I am sure that they would be interested in what you share.
If not, no worries.
Thank you, with great big smiles!
Yes, please do share with anybody you feel is appropriate. I am trying desperately to get the message out!
Thank you - I can share your message far and wide via our local WAP loop and the local and national Holistic Moms Network loops.
Three last questions. First, from your email below, can a person know if "the skin can not handle the exposure to UV light"or is blood analysis needed. Second, if analysis is needed, can you share the name of the test?
Third, is D3 important for bone density? I ask because my bone density was not good since my first test at age 30. If not, then I will probably chuck my emulsified D supplement.
Thank you again and I won't continuously pepper you with questions. I have been thinking and researching a lot lately, and I have an intellectual curiousity about this stuff. Both Ken and my radiologist friend have been super helpful guiding my learning, but you bring a new twist to things and now I am more curious, so thank you for the information.
Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving,
I would imagine that people who are sensitive to sunlight would get things like a skin rash or perhaps hives upon sun exposure. I'm not sensitive so I don't know first-hand what it would be like to experience that. It would suggest to me that they are deficient in sulfur and/or cholesterol in the skin.
I actually don't know what the test would be that would assess things like cholesterol sulfate deficiency. I know that there are tests that are possible for sulfur metabolites, because I've seen papers discussing deficiencies in sulfur metabolites related to autism and chronic fatigue syndrome and Alzheimer's disease. But I don't know what those tests would be or whether they're widely available. I think very few people are aware of the potential significance of cholesterol sulfate to health. I had to figure it out through indirect means.
I think bone density issues are a direct consequence of cholesterol sulfate deficiency. If you don't have enough cholesterol or enough sulfur, your body will leach the calcium out of your bones, and put it into bad places like plaque and calcified heart valves. Cholesterol protects the cell membranes from potassium leaks, and with insufficient cholesterol, cells start to switch over from potassium to calcium, a bigger molecule that doesn't leak nearly so readily. But it has to supply that calcium from the bones, so the bones become fragile. The best way to protect the bones is to get plenty of sun exposure. I am sixty three years old -- I had my bone density checked recently and the numbers looked great! I've always tried to get lots of sun exposure all my life, and I think it has worked!
Note that I had low cholesterol levels my whole life until the last four years, so perhaps that and the horrific “food” I ate had something to do with my bone density issues. I am conquering them, though. See And the Bone Density Drum Roll Please….