How Supplementing with Methylsulfonylmethane Benefits Your Health
Inflammation – it’s the “bad guy” behind most modern diseases. It’s implicated in heart disease, in hypertension, arthritis and more. It also plays a role in conditions like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as much more. One natural supplement – methylsulfonylmethane, or simply MSM for simplicity’s sake, shows promise in reducing inflammation and improving your overall health and quality of life. In fact, numerous medical studies have shown that taking MSM regularly can help:
- Reduce inflammation
- Reduce joint and muscle pain
- Reduce oxidative stress
- Improve antioxidant capacity
So, what is MSM? How much should you take per day in order to improve your quality of life, range of motion or pain level? Is it safe for you to take? Are there any side effects?
What Is MSM?
Methylsulfonylmethane, or MSM, is a naturally occurring sulfur-related compound. Research shows that it is a member of the methyl-S-methane compounds found within the wider sulfur cycle of the planet. This begins with the uptake of sulfate by phytoplankton, and other microorganisms. This creates DMSP, either by breaking it off of dimethyl sulfide, or through demethylation to ultimately create DMS.
DMS can then be aerosolized naturally by contact with nitrates, by ozone, and in other ways, thereby creating sulfur dioxide or DMSO, which then returns to the soil and seas through precipitation, where it forms MSM. This is taken up by plants, or used by bacteria in the soil and water.
MSM can also be produced synthetically by oxidizing DMSO with hydrogen peroxide. This then must be purified through distillation, which is the method used to create commercial MSM products like OptiMSM®.
MSM has roles in a very, very wide range of applications, and is regularly used in the creation of solvents. It is also related to dimethyl sulfoxide. Other names by which MSM is known around the world include:
- Organic sulfur
- Crystalline dimethyl sulfoxide
- Methyl sulfone
- Dimethyl sulfone
Research into what would eventually come to be known as MSM began in the late 1970s – the researchers were using odorless MSM (no sulfur smell) in a quest to duplicate what had been achieved using its parent chemical, dimethyl sulfoxide, specifically related to the metabolites found in that compound.
The research into MSM was successful, and the FDA granted a Generally Recognized as Safe, or GRaS, certification. A patent was given to Dr. Herschler in 1981 for an MSM product that was capable of smoothing and softening skin, as well as diluting blood, and strengthening nails. Additional patents followed, in which MSM was shown to:
- Relieve stress
- Relieve pain
- Treat parasites
- Boost body metabolism
- Increase energy
- Improve wound healing
- Improve circulation in the body
While modern scientific research shows that those early patent claims were largely insubstantial, it does show that MSM can be used to help treat patients suffering from arthritis, and other diseases related to inflammation, including allergic rhinitis, exercise-induced inflammation, and even interstitial cystitis.
How Does MSM Work in the Body?
While it has been shown that MSM can have dramatic effects on inflammation in the body, and on inflammation-related diseases, the actual mechanism of action here is not completely understood. One study published in the journal Nutrients points out, “Due to its enhanced ability to penetrate membranes and permeate throughout the body, the full mechanistic function of MSM may involve a collection of cell types, and is therefore difficult to elucidate.
Results from in vitro and in vivo studies suggest that MSM operates at the crosstalk of inflammation and oxidative stress at the transcriptional and subcellular level. Due to the small size of this organosulfur compound, distinguishing between direct and indirect effects is problematic.”
The Effects of MSM On Cytokine Release
Inflammation, particularly in the joints of those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, is created by the release of cytokines – a specific type of protein. Cytokines are also released during strenuous exercise, such as long-distance running. In a study published through the Journal of Sports Medicine, physically active men were given either an MSM supplement or a placebo. Cytokine production was then tested in their blood before, and through 72 hours after exercising. MSM supplementation resulted in a dramatic reduction of cytokine production, as well as pain and discomfort related to inflammation for those patients. Those taking the placebo noticed no difference, and cytokine production in the blood tested showed no differences.
The authors of the study, Marie van der Merwe and Richard J. Bloomer, point out that, “Strenuous exercise causes a robust inflammatory reaction that precludes the cells from efficiently responding to additional stimuli. MSM appears to dampen the release of inflammatory molecules in response to exercise, resulting in a less incendiary environment, allowing cells to still have the capacity to mount an appropriate response to an additional stimulus after exercise.”
Another study, this one published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, followed healthy men engaged in moderate exercise, supplementing with MSM to reduce inflammation. The study’s authors point out that with the right doses (3 g) of MSM, the men in the study were able to reduce muscle soreness after exercise (inflammation), as well as reduce fatigue. Antioxidant capacity (measured via TEAC) was increased significantly, while homocysteine decreased.
The authors state, “MSM, especially when provided at 3 grams per day, may favorably influence selected markers of exercise recovery.” A similar study published in the same journal found that when patients ran a half-marathon induced significant pain and discomfort from inflammation. Those patients supplementing with MSM rather than a placebo experienced “clinically significant reduction both muscle and joint pain”.
What about Serious Arthritic Conditions?
So far, we’ve discussed primarily muscle and joint pain suffered by people during exercise. While the inflammation created by strenuous and even moderate exercise creates similar inflammation and pain levels to many forms of arthritis, it is important to study the effects of MSM on those who actually suffer from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. One study conducted by faculty members of the Medicine University of Indonesia sought to answer these questions.
The authors of the study state that glucosamine and chondroitin are frequently used to combat inflammation and pain in arthritis sufferers, and are generally used together. They also point out that MSM has been used successfully to treat some arthritis sufferers, and that it is often combined with the other two supplements during these treatments. However, this creates problems, and it is unknown whether MSM, either alone or in conjunction with the other two supplements, would benefit sufferers of osteoarthritis.
The study followed 147 patients suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee, split into three groups. One group received a placebo. Another received only glucosamine and chondroitin (G+C). The third group received MSM, plus G+C. After 12 weeks, it became apparent that those taking G+C and MSM saw significantly better improvement in their inflammation and pain levels than those taking only G+C or those taking the placebo. Both WOMAC and VAS scores for the G+C and MSM group were drastically better than either of the other groups.
MSM Can Help Rebuild Bone Material
Bone loss is a symptom (and source of pain and discomfort) in both rheumatoid arthritis, and in osteoporosis. In the past, the only solution available was to increase consumption of calcium, while getting moderate exercise. Exercise caused damage to the bones, which the body would then repair using the available calcium, rebuilding not only the damage caused by exercise, but also mitigating the material lost naturally. However, ongoing research shows that MSM may be able to improve the situation for those suffering from either RA or osteoporosis related bone loss.
In a study published through the journal PLOS One, researchers studied the effects of MSM on osteoclast and osteoblast operation within the body. According to the authors, “Bone remodeling describes the restructuring of existing bone, which is a delicately controlled balance between bone formation by osteoblasts and resorption by osteoclasts. An imbalance in these processes can lead to excessive osteoclast-induced bone resorption, which causes rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis.”
The results showed that MSM was able to mitigate the loss of bone material in patients suffering from osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis. The authors point out that, “MSM markedly inhibited RANKL-induced TRAP activity, multinucleated osteoclast formation, and bone resorptive activity. These results indicate that STAT3 plays a pivotal role in RANKL-induced osteoclast formation, and that MSM can attenuate RANKL-induced osteoclastogenesis by blocking both NF-kB and STAT3 activity.”
Ultimately, these studies show that MSM provides protection for those suffering from the results of inflammation in the body, including joint pain due to severe arthritis, and even bone loss from osteoporosis. MSM is also indicated as a potential solution for athletes (both professional and amateur) suffering from muscle pain and soreness after completing moderate to strenuous exercise. As MSM is a natural supplement, there are very few side effects. Most patients in the studies cited suffered at most mild nausea. The most effective dosage in general cases seems to be 3.0 grams per day, but additional studies are needed to determine the right dose for various use cases and conditions.