Sulfur and Autism

Dr. Weeks’ Comment: Sulfur is the 4th most common element in the body and it is a work horse of mobilization – like a UBER on call it takes trash away, mobilizes hormones to make them water soluble and bioavailable and also supports normal detoxification which is strained in kids with autism. Epsom salts bath are magnesium and also sulfur – which makes them doubly calming for autistic children.

Here the authors studied the water and beverages which were consumed by pregnant mothers of children who became autistic. Areas with the highest rates of autism showed lower levels of sulfate. Severe autism was associated with the lowest sulfate levels while mild symptoms were associated with higher levels of sulfate . The results suggest that sulfate may be helpful in reducing both the incidence and severity of autism.

Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

Sulfate Deficiency as a Risk Factor for Autism


This is a study of water and beverages consumed during pregnancy by mothers of children with autism. Materials included vials for water samples and a survey to describe the water and beverages. Samples were tested for sulfate and surveys evaluated for average daily levels. Results were stratified for selected regions of the United States. Areas with the highest rates of autism showed a trend toward lower levels of sulfate compared to areas with low rates of autism (28% sulfate, n = 45, p = 0.059). Severe autism was associated with low sulfate levels while mild symptoms were associated with higher levels of sulfate (− 0.32 correlation, n = 86, p < 0.01). The results suggest that sulfate may be helpful in reducing both the incidence and severity of autism.


Autism Sulfate Pregnancy Drinking water Beverages 

Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article ( contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.


Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) affect social interaction, communication, behavior and the senses. In the United States, the prevalence is 1 in 59 for all children and 1 in 37 for boys based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Baio et al. 2014). The cause is not well understood although genetic predisposition coupled with environmental influence is strongly suspected (Lyall et al. 2017). It is the purpose of this study to evaluate sulfate levels in drinking water and beverages as a risk factor for autism. It is our goal to better understand the causes of autism and illuminate possible preventative measures.

One characteristic of autism is dysfunctional sulfur metabolism. In particular, the oxides of sulfur are implicated: sulfur dioxide, sulfite and sulfate (SO2,SO2−3andSO2−4)(SO2,SO32−andSO42−). Sulfate may be ingested directly or it may be produced as an end product of the transsulfuration pathway. In this pathway, the amino acid methionine contributes sulfur dioxide and sulfite which is finally oxidized by sulfite oxidase enzyme to become sulfate. An English study reports the urine of those with autism contains 50 times the sulfite and double the sulfate of neurotypicals (Waring and Klovrza 2000). In an Arizona study that investigated blood sulfate levels in a cohort with autism, free sulfate was 35% and total sulfate was 72% of non-autistic individuals (Adams et al. 2011). In addition, a French study of nasal stem cells found decreased expression of either the molybdenum cofactor sulfurase or aldehyde oxidase genes (MOCOS or AOX) in 91% of a small group (n = 11/12) of autistic participants (Feron et al. 2016). Both of these genes are part of the molybdenum cofactor pathway, responsible for sulfite oxidase enzyme, among several others. Impaired sulfite oxidase production results in an increase of sulfite as noted above.

Sulfate is a common nutrient and functions in a variety of chemical processes including the development of tissue structure for important organs. During human pregnancy, maternal circulating sulfate levels double during the final trimester. This highlights the importance of sulfate in fetal development (Dawson et al. 2015). In particular, heparan sulfate is essential for neuron regulation. In studies of mice with compromised heparan sulfate synthesis, symptoms similar to those found in autism resulted, including impairments in social interaction, expression of repetitive behavior and difficulties with vocalization (Irie et al. 2012). In humans, the examination of postmortem brain tissue in young individuals showed reduced levels of heparan sulfate for those with autism vs neurotypicals (Pearson et al. 2013). Finally, sulfate supports sulfonation and sulfotransferase enzymes which help to remove xenobiotics and certain pharmacological drugs. Through a sulfonate intermediary, 3′-phosphoadenosine 5′-phosphosulfate (PAPS), sulfate is attached to unwanted chemicals increasing water solubility to facilitate removal (Gamage et al. 2005). Without sufficient sulfate, developing children may be at heightened risk from xenobiotics and environmental factors that require metabolism via sulfonation.

With the importance of sulfate in mind, the prevalence of autism was researched using Department of Education data as required by IDEA legislation, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (US DoE 2010). For children aged 6 through 11 in 2010, prevalence was calculated for all 50 states. The states with the highest rates of autism were Minnesota, Maine, Oregon and Connecticut. States with very low rates included Iowa, Colorado, Oklahoma, Montana, Kansas and South Dakota. Water Quality Reports for the major cities in each of these states were accessed for data on sulfate levels. Sulfate reporting is not required by the federal government and not all cities include this information in their annual water reports. For the ten states mentioned above, sufficient data was available and sulfate levels were averaged with population as a weighting factor. The four states with a high incidence of autism averaged 13 mg/L sulfate. The six states with low incidence averaged 113 mg/L. This difference prompted our research study (Williams 2017).


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *