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What Is MSM And How Does It Work?


Scientists are still uncertain exactly how MSM works to help the body. We do know that the body uses sulfur in the formation of connective tissues. One theory about how MSM works notes that sulfur appears to be a necessary element for healthy cartilage. Patients who have arthritis appear to have about one-third the level of sulfur in their cartilage than is found in the cartilage of healthy people who do not have arthritis.

Other theories focus on the formation of pressure-inducing fluid in cells. Joints become stiff when toxins around the cell walls in the body create a leathery membrane that keeps fluid and toxins in the cell. Once it is filled with fluid, the cell begins to swell with fluid, putting pressure on nerve endings and creating stiffness. It is believed that MSM makes ceils permeable so fluids can flow freely through the cell wall, removing the toxins in the cell, thus promoting healthy joint lubrication.

MSM is believed to increase energy at the cellular level by catalyzing the chemical reactions which change food into energy. Some researchers have theorized that this chemical reaction may explain the impressive pain-relieving qualities of MSM. MSM also works to help in maintaining the structure of the proteins in the body, helping the formation of keratin which is essential for hair and nail growth, aiding in the production of immunoglobulin which maintains the immune system, and catalyzing the chemical reactions which change food into energy.

Researchers continue to study MSM and are trying to understand exactly how MSM works in the body. There is, however, a strong link between sulfur and pain relief in humans. For thousands of years, people have visited natural hot mineral springs that are rich in sulfur to relieve their joints and muscles from pain.

What Is MSM?

MSM, or methylsulfonylmethane, is a non-toxic, organic sulfur-containing nutrient that supports healthy active lifestyles by providing the body with a form of sulfur, a nutritionally essential nutrient. MSM and its related sulfur compounds are the sources of 85 percent of the sulfur found in all living organisms. As an important part of the natural sulfur cycle, MSM plays a crucial role in many important functions of the human body. In fact, sulfur is the third most abundant mineral based on a percentage of total body weight. A necessary element for babies, sulfur is the sixth most abundant macromineral found in breast milk. MSM is also found in green leafy vegetables, milk, eggs, coffee, and tea.

In clinical studies, MSM has shown promise as a treatment for allergies, pain syndromes, athletic injuries, and bladder disorders. MSM appears to have significant anti-inflammatory effects and maybe a possible treatment for arthritis pain. In a study conducted by the University of California School of Medicine in Los Angeles, patients who took 2,250 milligrams of MSM daily for six weeks reported an 80 percent reduction in arthritis symptoms. Doctors at the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland investigating MSM as an arthritis treatment found that patients taking MSM reported less pain, less stiffness, and greater mobility. No side effects were reported among the patients who took MSM in the Oregon study. Thousands of people have discovered the pain-relieving qualities of MSM for themselves. Oscar-winning actor James Coburn was also famous for overcoming the crippling effects of arthritis with the use of sulfur pills. Coburn suffered for more than 20 years with debilitating rheumatoid arthritis, yet felt relief within only a few days of starting MSM in early 1998.

MSM is also known as dimethyl sulfone, one of several forms of sulfur that exist in nature, including methionine, cysteine, cystine, homocysteine, homocysteine, and taurine. MSM is the biologically active form of sulfur that is found in all living organisms, including humans.

MSM is derived from DMSO, the well-known analgesic that is used worldwide as a treatment for painful inflammatory conditions. Unlike DMSO, which is associated with what some consider an unpleasant odor, MSM is odor-free. MSM is chemically similar to DSMO, and is sometimes referred to as "DSMOČ."

Sulfur is a common element in the human body. Healthy adults excrete between 4 to 11 mg of sulfur each day in urine.

A spoon with a msm
A spoon with a msm

The Benefits Of MSM

Research has shown that MSM may be effective for the treatment of allergy, pain syndromes, athletic injuries, and bladder disorders. However, the role of elemental sulfur in human nutrition is only beginning to be understood. MSM is not intended to cure, treat, diagnose or prevent any disease. It is possible that additional research will reveal more uses for this naturally-occurring sulfur compound. Researchers at the American Institute for Biosocial and Medical Research note that the low toxicological profiles of these sulfur compounds, combined with promising therapeutic effects, warrant continued human clinical trials.

MSM As A Pain Treatment

MSM is used to treat pain. Over 40 million Americans suffer from some form of arthritis, a condition that may be treatable with MSM. Other pain sufferers have enjoyed the benefits of MSM. Among the people who use MSM on a regular basis are arthritis sufferers, weight lifters, and professional athletes. MSM is such a strong pain reliever that it was originally used to treat racehorses to help relieve muscle pain following a race. Doctors and athletic trainers noticed when athletes began visiting equine supply stores to purchase MSM for personal use. Research on MSM in humans shows that it is safe and well-tolerated. People who are concerned about the potentially dangerous side effects of NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, Tylenol, and others) often choose to take MSM instead. The naturally occurring form of sulfur has shown promise in treating arthritis pain in the knees, hips, elbows, shoulders, and other joints in the body.

MSM As A Treatment For Allergies

MSM supplementation of 2,600 mg/day for 30 days showed positive effects in the reduction of symptoms associated with SAR, or Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis. Over 23 million Americans are affected by SAR, and current epidemiologic studies indicate that its prevalence within the United States is increasing.

MSM As A Treatment For Interstitial Cystitis

MSM appears to hold promise for interstitial cystitis patients, as well as those suffering from painful bladder (urethral) syndrome.

Other MSM Uses

Clinical research on MSM has been limited primarily to pain control and arthritis. However, anecdotal evidence gathered from people who use MSM that the many different ways people are using this supplement. These reports are taken from actual users of MSM and did not come from clinical trials. The lack of clinical research means that no sure claims can be made regarding the effectiveness of MSM for treating these conditions. The following list is for information purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Individuals using MSM supplements have found them to be useful in the treatment of:

  • Acne
  • Acid reflux
  • Allergies
  • Alzheimer's symptoms
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Back pain
  • Blood circulation problems
  • Bursitis
  • Cancer
  • Candida
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Cholesterol control
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Colon cancer
  • Chronic headaches
  • Concentration
  • Constipation
  • Diabetes
  • Diverticulosis
  • Emphysema
  • Eye health
  • Fibromyalgia
  • GERD
  • Heartburn
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Leg cramps
  • Lung dysfunction
  • Lupus
  • Memory loss
  • Migraines
  • Muscle pain
  • Nail and hair growth
  • Parasites
  • Scar tissue reduction
  • Snoring
  • Stress
  • TMJ
  • Tendonitis
  • Ulcers

MSM Side Effects

MSM is considered safe and is well-tolerated in humans. MSM is known as one of the least toxic substances in the body, with a safety profile similar to that of water. Patients who have been treated at the Oregon Health Sciences University with oral M.S.M. at levels above two grams daily for many years without any reports of serious toxicity.

MSM appears to be safe and well-tolerated in humans. Sulfur is a naturally occurring substance and is found throughout the body.

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