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MSM (methyl sulfonyl methane) is a sulfur-containing compound normally found in many of the foods we eat. It is chemically related to DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide), a popular (although unproven) treatment for arthritis. When DMSO is applied on the skin or taken orally, about 15% of it breaks down in the body to form MSM. 1 Some researchers have suggested that the resulting MSM could be responsible for the benefits attributed to DMSO. If so, MSM might be preferable as a treatment, because it does not cause some of the unpleasant side effects associated with DMSO treatment, such as body odor and bad breath. In addition, as a natural substance found in food, MSM would be expected to have a good safety profile. However, there is as yet no more than preliminary evidence that MSM is useful for any medical condition.
There is no dietary requirement for MSM. However, it occurs naturally in cow's milk, meat, seafood, vegetables, fruits, and even coffee, tea, and chocolate. MSM supplements are sold in healthfood stores and some pharmacies. Although creams and lotions containing MSM are also available, it is hard to see the purpose of these topical products since MSM, unlike DMSO, is not absorbed through the skin. 2 MSM supplies sulfur. Some advertisements for MSM claim that sulfur deficiency is widespread, and that for this reason alone MSM will improve the health of most everybody who takes it. However, there are numerous other dietary sources of sulfur, including, most prominently, many forms of ordinary protein.
Dosages of oral MSM used for therapeutic purposes range from 1,500 to 10,000 mg daily, usually divided up into 3 daily doses.
MSM has also been proposed as a treatment for interstitial cystitis , an inflammation in the wall of the bladder that causes frequent and painful urination. When prescribed for this condition, MSM is usually instilled directly into the bladder, although oral use has also been suggested. However, no clinical studies on this use have been performed: the only evidence for this treatment comes from case studies and anecdotal reports. 3 Since interstitial cystitis is known to respond very positively to placebo , 4 these reports mean little.
MSM has also been advocated for allergies (including drug allergies), scleroderma , excess stomach acid , and constipation , but there is no meaningful evidence whatsoever to support these proposed uses.
What Is the Scientific Evidence for Methyl Sulfonyl Methane?
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study performed in India, 118 people with osteoarthritis of the knee were given one of the following four treatments: glucosamine (500 mg, 3 times daily), MSM (500 mg, 3 times daily), a combination of glucosamine and MSM, or placebo. 5 The study ran for 12 weeks. The results showed that both MSM and glucosamine improved arthritis symptoms as compared to placebo, and that the combination of MSM and glucosamine was more effective than either one alone. Benefits were also seen in a 12-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 50 people with osteoarthritis, utilizing MSM at a dose of 3 g twice daily. 6 However, in a comprehensive review of 6 studies involving 681 patients with osteoarthritis of knee, researchers concluded it is not yet possible to convincingly determine whether or not either DMSO or MSM is beneficial. 7
- Hucker HB, Ahmed PM, Miller EA, et al. Metabolism of dimethyl sulphoxide to dimethyl sulphone in the rat and man. Nature. 1966;209:619-620.
- Jacob SW and Herschler R. Introductory remarks: dimethyl sulfoxide after twenty years. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1983;411:12-17.
- Childs SJ. Dimethyl sulfone (DMSO 2 ) in the treatment of interstitial cystitis. Urol Clin North Am. 1994;21:85-88.
- Hanno PM, Wein AJ. Medical treatment of interstitial cystitis (other than Rimso-50/Elmiron). Urology. 29(4 Suppl):22-6.
- Usha P.R., Naidu M.U.R. Randomised, double-blind, parallel, placebo-controlled study of oral glucosamine, methylsulfonylmethane and their combination in osteoarthritis. Clinical Drug Investigation. 2004;24:353-363.
- Kim LS, Axelrod LJ, Howard P, Buratovich N, Waters RF. Efficacy of methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) in osteoarthritis pain of the knee: a pilot clinical trial. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 14(3):286-94.
- Brien S, Prescott P, Bashir N, Lewith H, Lewith G. Systematic review of the nutritional supplements dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) in the treatment of osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 16(11):1277-88.