What is Methyl Sulfonyl Methane?
Methyl Sulfonyl Methane is often referred simply as MSM. Its chemical formula is (CH3)2SO2 and it’s a by product of time dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) as its broken up by the body. MSM is a naturally occurring product that you can find in alfalfa sprouts, tomatoes, coffee and many other products. It’s been widely used for pain relief by arthritis sufferers and it’s supposed to be pretty safe. I first heard about MSM when my chiropractor recommended I take something called Serrapeptase with MSM and mineral supplements. I have a neck injury going back 20+ years, and the serrapeptase is supposed to help remove scar tissue that may be affecting that area, while the MSM is suppose to strengthen the discs between the problematic vertabrae so that I don’t get recurrences of the hernias that are causing my such problems.
MSM does have a commercial use as a high-temperature solvent because of its chemical structure and thermal stability.
As you read more about MSM you’ll find that the dosage varies enormously between the sources, with some quoting 1000 to 2000 mg per day or less, and other sources quoting double or triple that. As with any medicine or nutritional supplement you should check with your doctor before you take MSM. On this page I try to give you a rundown on the latest information related to methyl sulfonyl methane, which I shall just call MSM from now on.
How Does MSM Work?
The main reason people take MSM is because it contains sulfur. While there are no dietary reference intake (DRI) or established daily requirements for sulfur as we see with so many supplements, it is required protein synthesis (and since enzymes of proteins, sulfur is a hugely important element in our bodies) and therefore extremely important in our bodies. Obviously sulphur is contained in natural products like onions and garlic as well as protein containing foods (meat, fish, nuts, milk, eggs etc). Because of the need for sulphur in proteins, it has been suggested that MSM helps to support healthy connective tissue like tendons, ligaments and muscle and also help joint care. This has led to it being used for the treatment of information and pain in particular arthritis.
It is claimed that MSM:
- Makes cell walls more permeable to allow better transport of nutrients and removal of waste products.
- Without sufficient MSM, cells become less flexible, leading to a whole range of problems.
Many people argue that it would be very unlikely a normal diet would be deficient in sulfur, and there’s a lot of conflicting information and claims about MSM.
Robert M. Herschler, Ph.D (research biochemist who holds 11 patents for MSM between 1981 and 1986) and on December 17th, 1985, patents entitled "Dietary and Pharmaceutical uses of methyl-sulfonylmethane and compositions comprising it" made a number of claims. You can read the patent here if you are interested.
So how exactly what has MSM been used for?
Effects on Health
MSM has reportedly helped in the treatment of the following conditions:
- Pain & Inflammation Relief
- Acne – check out the acne.org community messageboards if you want to read real users experiences with MSM. Just search for MSM.
- Digestive Disorders
- Better Hair, Skin & Nails – because sulfur is needed in the synthesis of collagen and keratin (proteins found in the hair, skin and nails), MSM has been called nature’s "beauty mineral" by some.
- Allergies – based on the idea that MSM increases permeability of the cells in your body, this enables you to flush out foreign particles.
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Chronic Fatigue
- Fibromyalgia symptoms – helping to relieve symptoms rather than cure Fibromyalgia. Since people who suffer fibromyalgia often have a protein and sulphur deficiency, it can lead to an enzyme deficiency (enzymes control all of the reactions that take place in cells), MSM supplementation may help by restoring the deficiencies.
- Parasites – it’s claimed that MSM competes with parasites for receptor sites on the mucous membrane of the gut, thereby preventing parasites from attaching themselves.
- Skin Damage
- Yeast infections
- Removal of for Toxins
- Headaches (migraines) – though I have read a few posts on forums suggesting that MSM has caused headaches, and it is one of the largely recognised possible side-effects.
- Asthma – it suggested that MSM helps regulate the fluid that covers the Airways to your lungs and prevents the inflammatory response which causes asthma.
- Muscle Pain – one website I found offers a high potency MSM cream to help treat sore muscles and joints, backache, muscular strains etc.
- Arthritis – because connective tissue relies on proteins that require sulphur to form properly, MSM is widely used to help treat the symptoms of arthritis.
Clinical Trials – the evidence
There have been a number of studies on both animals and humans involving MSM.
- Osteoarthritis – one report suggested that MSM helped reduce knee pain in people who suffered osteoarthritis. However the number of people who were treated during the study was quite small, so there is still uncertainty over the validity of these claims. Another study using 1.5 g per day MSM suggested it was helpful in relieving symptoms of knee osteoarthritis. Again though, there were questions raised over the trials.
- Interstitial Cystitis – Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) has been approved by the FDA in the late 1970s for the treatment of interstitial cystitis. As we mentioned earlier, MSM is created in the body as DMSO is metabolised, so it is possible that MSM was an active ingredient of patients who took the DMSO.
- A couple of studies on rats found that MSM delayed chemically induced cancer in rats. You can read the abstracts here:
- "Polar solvents in the chemoprevention of dimethylbenzanthracene-induced rat mammary cancer"
- "Use of polar solvents in chemoprevention of 1,2-dimethylhydrazine-induced colon cancer".
Toxicity? Is it Safe?
A number of side effects have been attributed to MSM supplementation, including upset stomach and diarrhoea as well as headaches, but since different trials have focused on different dosage of MSM, there really needs to be more studies to find out if there are safe levels and exactly what level you need.
In terms of toxicity, studies on rats have shown little or no toxicity with doses of 2 g MSM per kilogram of body weight daily and I’ve been unable to find any clinical trials to report serious side effects, but there does need to be long term use studies in humans.
Some MSM advocates suggest 2000 to 6000 mg per day of MSM has the recommended dose. However, I would suggest that the dose depends on your body size and metabolism as well as the severity of symptoms. It is only common sense that you take the lowest dose that helps you. It’s been suggested that MSM works better when it’s taken with vitamins C, but as always please do consult your doctor before taking any supplements.