MSM, food and sulphur
MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) is an organic sulphur-contributing compound also known as DMSO2, methyl sulfone, and dimethyl sulfone. It is a colourless solid, and is considered relatively inert chemically.
MSM occurs naturally in some plants and animals, is present in small amounts in many foods and beverages, and is produced by intestinal bacteria (5). Small quantities are available in most foods, including vegetables, fruits, seafood, meat and milk.
Sulphur is an element necessary for the growth and maintenance of the body, and is essential for the formation of connective tissue. It is used to produce collagen, enzymes, hormones, antibodies and free radical scavengers such as the antioxidant glutathione. Modern food processing methods can cause sulphur deficiency for those on a diet high in processed foods. Many degenerative diseases are in part caused by a lack of sulphur in the diet.
MSM is regarded as a source of sulphur supplementation. However, sulphur does not have a Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) or recommended dietary level. The best food source of sulphur is egg yolks. Sulphur is also available in cruciferous vegetables, onions, garlic, and in protein-containing foods including nuts, seeds and dairy products.
MSM is related to DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide), a remedy also discussed on this website. Approximately 15% of the DMSO applied to the skin or taken orally is converted to MSM. MSM is easier to take than DMSO, and it does not cause a sulphur smell on the skin and breath.
Another source of sulphur is Flowers of Sulphur, also known as yellow sulfur powder.
- For the fast relief of pain.
- Reduces inflammation, on the skin, in muscles and joints, and throughout the body. Whilst studies have shown that it can relieve arthritis, no evidence was found of a more general anti-inflammatory effect; there were no significant changes in two measures of systemic inflammation: C-reactive protein level and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (1, 4).
- Burns, scars. MSM assists with healing, reducing scars, and the regrowth of healthy skin.
- Interstitial cystitis.
- Athletes frequently use MSM for pain relief and strengthening of joints and muscles. It also assists in maintaining healthy animals, and is widely used in the racehorse industry.
- Hair and nails. Stronger, faster growing, thicker hair and nails.
- arthritis. MSM is often combined with glucosamine in arthritis formulas for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis: two small randomized controlled trials of methylsulfonylmethane in osteoarthritis knee pain reported significant pain relief (1, 2).
- Alzheimer's disease.
- Allergies. However, one study found that it was not effective for hay fever (4).
How to use MSM
You can buy it as a clear, crystalline powder that provides a bio-available source of sulphur. Purchase it in powder form, rather than as tablets or capsules which are likely to have other additives.
One level teaspoon of MSM is 4000 mg. Depending on the situation, between 250 mg and 10,000 mg can be taken daily. It is usually divided into several doses. Start with 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon per day; after a week increase to between 1/2 and 1 and a 1/2 teaspoons per day. There is anecdotal evidence of people taking larger doses with no ill effects, but in most cases larger doses have no benefits.
Suggested dose 1.5 grams per day for osteoarthritis.
- Insomnia is reported by some users when MSM is taken at night.
- Diarrhoea or stomach upset when taken in large doses. (3)
- Headaches when taken in large doses. (3)
- Caution - Affects on pregnant and nursing women, children, and people with liver and kidney disease is not known.
- While one of the two studies suggests that taking MSM for 12 weeks or less may be safe, "further research is needed to assess its safety for long-term use". (3)
1. Kim L.S., Axelrod L.J., Howard P., Buratovich N., Waters R.F.
Efficacy of methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) in osteoarthritis pain of the knee: A pilot clinical trial.
Osteoarthritis and Cartilage. 2006;14(3):286-94
2. Usha P.R., et al. Double-blind, parallel, placebo-controlled study of oral glucosamine, methylsulfonylmethane and their combination in osteoarthritis. Clinical Drug Investigation. 2004;24:353-63.
3. Brent A. Bauer. MSM for arthritis pain: Is it safe? Expert Answers, Mayo Clinic, July 9, 2009.
4. Barrager E., Veltmann J.R., Schauss A.G., Schiller R.N. A multi-centered, open label trial on the safety and efficacy of methylsulfonylmethane in the treatment of seasonal allergic rhinitis. J Altern Complement Med 2002;8:167-74.
5. Engelke U.F., Tangerman A., Willemsen M.A., Moskau D., Loss S., Mudd S.H., Wevers R.A. Dimethyl sulfone in human cerebrospinal fluid and blood plasma confirmed by one-dimensional (1)H and two-dimensional (1)H-(13)C NMR. NMR Biomed 2005 Aug;18(5):331-6.