What Is It?
Although you may never have heard of it, the organic sulfur compound known as MSM (short for methylsulfonylmethane) is contained in minute amounts in everyone’s blood and most foods. It’s unclear what role MSM plays in the complex chemistry of the human body, but some experts believe that, like other sulfur compounds, it’s a necessary building block for proteins, especially those found in the hair, muscles, and connective tissue of the joints and skin. Sulfur also is found in insulin and bile acid.
Now widely available in concentrated supplement form, MSM has been much publicized of late as an effective remedy for back pain, arthritis and a host of other disorders. Evidence for its healing potential, however, is currently only word of mouth, because few rigorously controlled scientific studies have yet been done concerning MSM use in humans. Still, testimonials abound from those who use it regularly.
MSM supplements are made from DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide), an industrial solvent that the FDA has approved for only one use–a bladder disorder called interstitial cystitis. Years ago, enthusiasts hailed DMSO as a remedy for a variety of ailments, particularly arthritis, but the noxious smell it caused in user’s breath and body odors seriously lessened its appeal. It also caused toxic effects in some people. MSM is thought to have many of DMSO’s advantages without the smell or toxicity.
MSM appears to inhibit pain impulses that travel along nerve fibers, acting as an analgesic. This property, along with the compound’s potential anti-inflammatory actions, are often cited in explaining its use for combating the symptoms of arthritis, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome and allergies.
In addition, MSM may reduce muscle spasms, increase blood flow and possibly contribute to the maintenance and repair of Cartilage. Studies in rats indicate that MSM may help to delay the growth of certain types of cancerous tumors.
Specifically, MSM may help to:
· Relieve arthritis symptoms. Those who use MSM supplements contend that it not only helps treat osteoarthritis–the degenerative form of arthritis that wears down cartilage over time–but rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and other autoimmune-related conditions as well (1,2).
Numerous studies have shown that sulfur levels in arthritic joints are lower than in healthy joints. MSM may help by delivering needed sulfur to the afflicted areas. Once in the joints, exactly how MSM works remains unclear: It may exert an anti-inflammatory, analgesic effect similar to that of aspirin.
It may also help to maintain or repair cartilage, the gel-like substance that cushions joints and that is a key ingredient of connective tissue. In a preliminary, double-blind study of 16 patients with degenerative arthritis, the pateints who took 2,250 mg of MSM daily for six weeks reported an 82% reduction in pain on average. Only two of those takng the Placebo reported decreased pain–about 20%.
· Treat chronic back pain. Taken in conjunction with supplements such as SAMe and glucosamine sulfate, MSM may be useful for treating chronic back pain resulting from muscle strain, ligament sprain, or the early degenerative changes that can affect joints and discs in the back. Advanced disc disease does not appear to respond to MSM treatment, however.
· Slow cancer development. Several rat an in vitro studies have shown that MSM significantly slows the development of mammary and colon tumors when the laboratory animals were given chemicals designed to cause cancer (3,4). In these studies, MSM did not prevent cancer, but it did delay it (5). In the breast cancer study, for instance, MSM stalled the appearance of tumors by an average of 100 days. (The equivalent of about 10 human years). Much more research is needed to determine if MSM can truly slow the progress of cancer in humans.
· Reduce allergy symptoms. MSM may block histamines, compounds that can irritate and inflame the membranes of the nose, eyes, and throat. Some people have found MSM more effective than antihistamines for allergies, without the side effects so common in standard prescription and over-the-counter drugs (6,7).
· For arthritis: Take 500 mg two or three times a day. Using MSM cream or gel in addition to the supplement may provide extra benefit. Rub the cream on the painful area four or five times a day for best results.
· For back pain: Take 500 mg three times a day. Using MSM cream or gel in addition to the supplement may provide extra benefit. Rub the cream on the painful area four or five times a day for best results.
· For allergy symptoms: Take 500 mg twice a day.
Guidelines for Use
- Take MSM with or directly after meals to lessen the possibility of gastrointestinal upset.
- If you find that MSM increases your energy level, avoid taking it too close to bedtime.
- For most ailments, allow at least a month to see results.
If you are on a blood thinner (anticoagulant), such as aspirin or warfarin (Coumadin), consult with your doctor before taking MSM. It can occasionally have a blood-thinning effect.
Possible Side Effects
· Because no rigorously controlled studies of MSM usage of any length have been done in humans, long-term effects are not presently known.
· Some people develop minor gastrointestinal discomfort, such as cramping and increased stool frequency with MSM use.
· In rare cases, a skin rash may appear. Stop using MSM if this or any other allergic reaction occurs.
· Don’t use MSM as a replacement for conventional medications prescribed by your doctor.
· Consult your doctor before beginning supplementation with MSM if you are currently taking blood thinning drugs. MSM may exacerbate the action of these medications.
Allergies – 500 mg 3 times a day
Arthritis – 500 mg 3 times a day or 750 mg twice a day
Rheumatoid Arthritis – 500 mg 3 times a day. Your health practitioner should monitor effectiveness.
For product recommendations and orders click here for the Natural Apothecary or call 773-296-6700, ext. 2001.
David Edelberg, MD