For awhile, MSM (short for methylsulfonyl-methane, also known as dimethyl sulfone) was consistently in the news. MSM has generated broad anecdotal support for its benefits in cases of allergies, arthritis, and joint pain. However, the list of conditions that are said to respond to MSM is much longer. Broadly speaking, MSM has been tested with clinical results in inflammation, joint and tissue pain, muscle spasms, hair and nail growth, even snoring. So just what is this compound and how does it work?
MSM is a stable source of sulfur that can be derived mostly from plants grown either on land or in the sea. Marine sources include algae and phytoplakton. Indeed, MSM is an integral part of the “sulfur cycle” in the biosphere in which sulfur is taken up from the soil by plants, is released into the atmosphere as the highly volatile dimethyl sulfide, which in turn is oxidized in the upper atmosphere to dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), which then becomes the atmospheric source of MSM. DMSO and MSM return to the soil via the rain, and then the sulfur cycle repeats itself.
MSM Food Sources
Of our normal foods, milk is one example of a source of MSM, and so are onions, garlic, asparagus, cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts as well as eggs and red peppers. However, there is a caveat. Plants in their fresh state thus contain a quantity of MSM when grown on sulfur-rich soils, yet most of the compound found in plant foods may be lost by improper handling and storage. Food preparation, especially excessive cooking and cooking in large volumes of water, also reduces the levels of MSM found in foods.
Bioavailable Sulfur (MSM) Improves Joint Health & More
MSM is a bioavailable source of sulfur, which is important for supplying the building blocks for the production and repair of the skin, hair, cartilage, ligaments and tendons. In the cases of arthritis and similar joint and ligament injuries, MSM may work through several different mechanisms. For instance, it was discovered in the 1930s that sufferers from arthritis often have below normal levels of cystine (a metabolite of cysteine) in their fingernails. This can lead to brittle or soft nails and can be an indication of either inadequate sulfur in the diet or a poor ability to manipulate dietary sulfur to match the body’s needs. Interestingly, when sulfur was given to one hundred arthritis patients intravenously in one trial, many found that the pain and other symptoms of their arthritis disappeared and that their fingernails returned to normal in the nail test for cystine.
Sulfur is required for the repair of joint tissues and for the construction of connective tissues generally. This is one rationale often given for the use of glucosamine sulfate as the preferred form of glucosamine in the treatment of osteoarthritis. Likewise, the cartilage extracts that were employed so successfully in many of the European arthritis trials certainly contained some quantity of sulfur along with other compounds. This suggests that MSM might be used in conjunction with glucosamine to yield improved results. This was confirmed recently in a trial combining MSM with glucosamine. The researchers concluded that the “combination of MSM with Glu (glucosamine) provides better and more rapid improvement in patients with osteoarthritis.”
Joint health to most of us means arthritis. However, this leaves out sports injuries, one of the areas in which MSM has been researched. Also, not just humans benefit from MSM. There even is research, for instance, on the effective use of MSM with racehorses.
Pilot clinical trials suggest that a realistic time frame for response to MSM therapy is four to six weeks. For instance, in a small arthritis trial conducted at UCLA by R. M. Lawrence, pain scores exhibited a 60 percent improvement at four weeks and an 82 percent improvement at six weeks compared with placebo, which exhibited improvements of 20 and 18 percent respectively. Similarly, in a pilot trial on hair and nail health, 3 grams of MSM ingested daily led to significant improvements within six weeks.