MSM Health Benefits and Side Effects

osteoarthritis knee pain
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Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a substance sold in dietary supplement form. Also found in cow's milk and in a variety of foods (including some types of meat, seafood, fruits, and vegetables), it's said to treat a wide range of health problems. One of the most common uses for MSM is for arthritis relief.

MSM contains sulfur, a chemical element known to play a role in many biological processes. Proponents suggest that increasing your intake of sulfur can improve your health, in part by fighting chronic inflammation.

It should be noted that sulfur deficiency is very rare.

Uses for MSM

In alternative medicine, MSM is touted as a natural remedy for the following conditions:

  • Alzheimer's disease 
  • allergies 
  • asthma
  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • chronic pain 
  • constipation
  • diabetes
  • diverticulosis
  • hemorrhoids
  • high blood pressure 
  • high cholesterol 
  • migraines 
  • osteoarthritis 
  • osteoporosis 
  • premenstrual syndrome
  • rheumatoid arthritis 
  • scleroderma 
  • tendonitis 
  • TMJ syndrome 

In addition, MSM is said to promote weight loss, stimulate circulation, boost the immune system, enhance mood, improve sports performance, and protect against some forms of cancer.

When applied topically (i.e., directly to the skin), MSM is purported to treat skin conditions such as rosacea and reverse signs of aging.

The Health Benefits of MSM

Here's a look at the science behind some of the possible health benefits of MSM:

1)  Osteoarthritis

So far, there's limited scientific support for MSM's effectiveness as an osteoarthritis treatment.

For a research review published in the journal Osteoarthritis and Cartilage in 2008, scientists looked at six previously published studies testing the use of MSM or dimethyl sulfoxide (another sulfur-containing compound) among people with osteoarthritis of the knee.

Analyzing the findings from the two trials focusing on MSM, the review's authors found "positive but not definitive evidence that MSM is superior to placebo in the treatment of mild to moderate osteoarthritis of the knee." The authors called for further research to identify the optimum dosage of MSM and to determine whether MSM is safe for long-term use.

In a more recent study (published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2011), a clinical trial involving 49 men and women with osteoarthritis of the knee demonstrated that those treated with MSM supplements for 12 weeks experienced a significantly greater improvement in physical function (in comparison to those given a placebo for the same time period). However, the two study groups did not differ significantly in measures of pain and stiffness.

Related: All-Natural Approach to Osteoarthritis Pain Relief

2)  Rosacea

Topical use of MSM shows promise in the treatment of rosacea, according to a small study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology in 2008. For the study, 46 patients with rosacea were treated with either a placebo or a combination of MSM and silymarin (a compound extracted from milk thistle). At the study's end, those treated with the MSM/silymarin combination showed greater improvement in symptoms like skin redness and itching.

Related: Natural Remedies for Rosacea

3)  Allergies

A small study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2002 suggests that MSM may be of some benefit in the treatment of seasonal allergies.

After 30 days of taking MSM daily, study members had a significant reduction in allergy-related respiratory symptoms. Involving a total of 55 people with seasonal allergies (50 of whom ended up completing the study), the study also found that treatment with MSM improved participants' energy levels.

4)  Hemorrhoids

In a small study published in Updates in Surgery in 2012, a topical gel containing a combination of MSM, hyaluronic acid, and tea tree oil was found to reduce symptoms such as pain, bleeding, inflammation, and irritation. The study involved 36 patients and a 14-day treatment period.

Side Effects and Safety Concerns

MSM may trigger a number of side effects, such as stomach upset, headache, insomnia, and diarrhea.

Since little is known about the safety of long-term or regular use of MSM, it's important to consult your physician prior to taking MSM.

Go here to learn more about using dietary supplements safely.

Where to Find It

MSM supplements are sold in many drugstores, as well as in stores specializing in natural products. You can also purchase MSM supplements online.

Sources

Barrager E1, Veltmann JR Jr, Schauss AG, Schiller RN. "A multicentered, open-label trial on the safety and efficacy of methylsulfonylmethane in the treatment of seasonal allergic rhinitis." J Altern Complement Med. 2002 Apr;8(2):167-73.

Berardesca E1, Cameli N, Cavallotti C, Levy JL, Piérard GE, de Paoli Ambrosi G. "Combined effects of silymarin and methylsulfonylmethane in the management of rosacea: clinical and instrumental evaluation." J Cosmet Dermatol. 2008 Mar;7(1):8-14.

Brien S1, 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. 2008 Nov;16(11):1277-88.

Debbi EM1, Agar G, Fichman G, Ziv YB, Kardosh R, Halperin N, Elbaz A, Beer Y, Debi R. "Efficacy of methylsulfonylmethane supplementation on osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized controlled study." BMC Complement Altern Med. 2011 Jun 27;11:50.

Joksimovic N1, Spasovski G, Joksimovic V, Andreevski V, Zuccari C, Omini CF. "Efficacy and tolerability of hyaluronic acid, tea tree oil and methyl-sulfonyl-methane in a new gel medical device for treatment of haemorrhoids in a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial." Updates Surg. 2012 Sep;64(3):195-201.

Kim LS1, Axelrod LJ, Howard P, Buratovich N, Waters RF. "Efficacy of methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) in osteoarthritis pain of the knee: a pilot clinical trial." Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2006 Mar;14(3):286-94.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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