Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a natural compound that contains sulfur. It's sometimes used as an alternative medicine for various health purposes and goes by different names like dimethyl sulfone, methyl sulfone, and others.
Before people started using it as a medicine, MSM was mostly used as a solvent in industry, especially at high temperatures. Its parent compound, dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), was also used for similar purposes.
In the past, from the 1950s to the 1970s, scientists studied DMSO a lot because it had some interesting effects on living things. They found that it could get through cell membranes, had antioxidant properties (which means it could protect cells from damage), helped reduce inflammation, had effects on certain enzymes, and could cause the release of histamine from mast cells (which is related to allergic reactions).
In the late 1970s, two scientists, Dr. Robert Herschler and Dr. Stanley Jacob, started to investigate a substance called MSM. It doesn't have a strong smell and is similar to DMSO, a compound known for its potential medical uses. In 1981, Dr. Herschler got a patent in the United States for using MSM to make skin smoother, strengthen nails, and thin the blood. Later, he got more patents claiming that MSM could reduce stress, ease pain, fight parasites, boost energy, help with metabolism, improve blood circulation, and speed up wound healing. But it's important to note that there isn't much solid scientific proof for these claims.
However, there is some scientific research suggesting that MSM might be helpful for conditions like arthritis and other inflammatory problems. These include issues like interstitial cystitis (a bladder problem), allergic rhinitis (hay fever), and inflammation caused by exercise.
Methylsulfonylmethane Uses (MSM)
Arthritis and Inflammation:
Arthritis, a condition that causes joint inflammation and affects millions of adults, can be very painful and limit movement. Some people use MSM, a micronutrient that can penetrate the body effectively, as a complementary treatment for arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. It's often used along with other arthritis treatments like glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and boswellic acid.
In lab studies, MSM has shown promise in reducing inflammation by lowering the production of certain molecules called cytokines. This effect has also been seen in animal studies where MSM reduced inflammation in arthritic mice and rabbits. In rats with rheumatoid arthritis, a combination of MSM, glucosamine, and chondroitin sulfate reduced a marker of inflammation called C-reactive protein (CRP).
When it comes to human studies, most have relied on questionnaires filled out by patients to assess their joint condition. These questionnaires ask about pain, stiffness, and overall well-being. Some studies have shown that MSM can reduce pain, stiffness, and swelling in people with arthritis, as measured by various scales. There have been case studies where people with osteoarthritis reported feeling better after taking MSM.
Combination therapies that include MSM have also been effective. For example, a combination of glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and MSM helped improve pain and stiffness in people with arthritis. However, in obese women with osteoarthritis, the benefits were smaller when diet and exercise changes were also made. MSM, when used with boswellic acid and type II collagen, also reduced arthritis pain.
MSM isn't just for arthritis; it has been found to reduce inflammation in other conditions too. It has been shown to lower cytokine production in conditions like colitis, lung injury, and liver injury. When applied topically, it can even protect against skin inflammation caused by UV exposure and reduce allergic inflammation when taken as a drink.
In some cases, MSM has helped patients with interstitial cystitis and seasonal allergic rhinitis. It may also have an impact on reducing inflammation caused by exercise, but more research is needed to understand its effects on specific parts of the body like cartilage and synovium in humans.
Osteoarthritis, a condition where joints wear down, is mainly caused by the breakdown of cartilage. Cartilage is like a cushion in our joints, but it doesn't have a direct blood supply. Instead, it gets nutrients from nearby fluid. Inflammation, especially from molecules like IL-1β and TNF-α, can harm cartilage. MSM, in lab studies, seems to help protect cartilage by reducing the damaging effects of IL-1β and TNF-α. It might also help normalize cell activity, especially when there's not enough oxygen in the tissue.
In studies with animals, MSM has been found to disrupt this harmful signaling and protect cartilage. For example, in rabbits with surgically induced osteoarthritis, MSM reduced damage to cartilage and the surrounding tissue, as well as the levels of TNF-α. In a rat model of rheumatoid arthritis, a combination of glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and MSM reduced the growth of the synovium (a lining around joints) and changed the joint's shape in a way that could be beneficial. In mice with osteoarthritis, MSM supplementation significantly reduced damage to the cartilage surface.
Interestingly, in sheep, natural MSM levels in the blood go up after they experience joint instability, which can lead to osteoarthritis. However, this increase in MSM doesn't seem to be enough to protect their cartilage from erosion.
Improve Range of Motion and Physical Function:
Using MSM supplements has shown some positive effects on physical function in people with osteoarthritis. They reported feeling better and more mobile when assessed through various questionnaires like WOMAC, SF36, and Aggregated Locomotor Function (ALF). However, when it comes to objective measurements, like knee strength after intense exercise, the results weren't as clear, but they suggest that MSM might help with muscle recovery.
MSM is often used with other supplements, and some combinations have shown benefits. For instance, a mix of glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, MSM, guava leaf extract, and Vitamin D improved physical function in knee osteoarthritis patients. Another combination called GCM increased joint mobility and functional ability. MSM, when combined with boswellic acid, also improved knee joint function according to the Lequesne Index. In cases like rotator cuff repair, a mix of MSM, arginine l-α-ketoglutarate, hydrolyzed Type I collagen, and bromelain helped with the healing process without affecting functional outcomes.
But not all combinations have worked well. In some studies, like one with older horses and another with people suffering from gonarthrosis, certain combinations of supplements containing MSM didn't show significant improvements in mobility or function. However, in cases of lower back pain, using MSM with a glucosamine complex alongside physical therapy seemed to improve people's quality of life.
When it comes to spinal degenerative joint disease and degenerative disc disease, there hasn't been enough good-quality research to say whether GCM supplements are effective or not, according to a systematic review in 2011.
To Reduce Muscle Soreness Associated with Exercise:
When you do intense and long-lasting exercise, your muscles can get sore because they experience tiny injuries. This leads to inflammation in the affected area. MSM is believed to help with muscle soreness because it can reduce inflammation, and it might also provide sulfur that's important for connective tissues in your body.
In studies, MSM has been shown to reduce muscle damage caused by endurance exercise. It was measured by checking the levels of a substance called creatine kinase, which goes up when muscles are damaged. Taking MSM before exercise has also been found to lessen muscle soreness after both intense strength training and endurance exercises.
Reduce Oxidative Stress:
In lab studies, MSM appears to have a unique way of helping the body deal with harmful molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROS). Instead of directly neutralizing these harmful molecules, MSM seems to reduce their production, particularly in the mitochondria (the energy factories of cells). MSM can also restore the balance of certain chemicals in the body, like glutathione, and decrease the production of nitric oxide (NO) and other damaging molecules.
When tested in animals with experimentally induced injuries, MSM has shown several positive effects. It reduced substances like malondialdehyde (MDA), oxidized glutathione (GSSG), myeloperoxidase (MPO), NO, and carbon monoxide (CO), which can be harmful. At the same time, it increased substances like reduced glutathione, catalase (CAT), superoxide dismutase (SOD), and glutathione peroxidase (GPx), which help protect the body.
In human studies, taking MSM before endurance exercise has been found to reduce certain markers of oxidative stress and muscle damage. It also increased the body's ability to defend against harmful molecules. However, the effect was more pronounced when MSM was taken for a longer period before exercise, as opposed to just before exercising.
Using MSM with other substances like EDTA has also become more popular. For example, when applied topically, EDTA-MSM has been effective in reducing oxidative damage in the body. In people, this combination has shown promise in reducing oxidative stress, including lower levels of harmful substances like MDA and protein carbonyls (PC), and increased levels of protective molecules like reduced glutathione.
One study reported reduced DNA repair capacity in lymphocytes from MSM users, but this result may be due to when the samples were collected, as the body's natural daily rhythms can affect this measurement.
Improve Seasonal Allergies:
In a study looking at how MSM affects seasonal allergies, people who took 2.6 grams of MSM by mouth every day for 30 days saw improvements in their upper and total respiratory symptoms. They also had fewer lower respiratory symptoms by the third week of taking MSM, and these improvements continued throughout the 30 days. However, the study didn't initially provide information about pollen levels or a detailed questionnaire about symptoms. This missing data was later added when researchers Barrager and Schauss published additional information. They also checked for histamine release but found that there were no significant changes in the levels of IgE (an allergy-related antibody) or histamine in the blood.
Improve Skin Quality and Texture:
Since the first patent was given for MSM in 1981, it's been suggested that MSM can be good for the skin. It might make the skin look and feel better by providing sulfur to a protein called keratin.
Tests on animals like rabbits showed that MSM doesn't irritate the skin when applied as a patch. However, in guinea pigs, it was found to be a little irritating. In rats with burn wounds, using a lotion with MSM and EDTA improved their skin after three days of applying it every 8 hours.
In people, studies have shown that MSM can improve the appearance and condition of the skin. Experts and participants reported better skin quality after using MSM. There were also studies where people had treatments that included MSM, and these helped with issues like skin pigmentation, elasticity, and wrinkles. In the case of a 44-year-old man with a skin condition called ichthyosis, using a moisturizer with amino acids, vitamins, antioxidants, and MSM made his symptoms better after four weeks.
MSM and Cancer
Scientists are looking into whether MSM, a compound with sulfur, could help fight cancer. They've done experiments in labs with different types of cancer cells, like breast, stomach, and skin cancers, and the results look promising.
MSM seems to be able to kill cancer cells by stopping them from growing or causing them to die. It does this by making changes in the cells' metabolism, which affects how they grow and divide. For example, MSM can stop certain proteins that help cancer cells survive and multiply from working properly.
In these lab experiments, MSM also made cancer cells act more like normal, healthy cells. It made them stop growing when they shouldn't and reduced their ability to spread to other parts of the body.
There have also been studies in animals where MSM slowed down the growth of tumors. In some cases, it was used alongside other treatments, like Tamoxifen.
So far, there haven't been clinical trials with humans to see if MSM can treat cancer, but there's one study that suggests that people who use MSM might have a lower risk of lung and colorectal cancer. These early results are encouraging, and more research is needed to see if MSM could be a helpful cancer treatment.