How MSM Might Help Your Arthritis

MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) is a popular supplement among people with chronic pain. Its main benefit is as an anti-inflammatory that offers some relief to people with arthritis and other types of inflammatory, muscle, or joint pain. It's also believed to protect cartilage.

MSM is also believed to counter oxidative stress and improve antioxidant capacity. It's under investigation as a cancer treatment, as well. It passes readily through the blood-brain barrier and is distributed throughout the brain.

MSM is a naturally occurring sulfur compound found in many foods. In its pure form, it's an odorless, tasteless, white, water-soluble, crystalline solid.

Glucosamine and MSM pills
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Benefits of MSM

MSM has been marketed for pain and inflammation associated with:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Gout
  • Interstitial cystitis
  • Exercise-related muscle damage

It's classified as Generally Recognized As Safe. At dosages up to four grams per day, the supplement is well tolerated by most people. It's few known side effects are typically mild.

Dietary Sources of MSM

It's not hard to get MSM via your diet. MSM is naturally found in:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Milk
  • Fish
  • Grains

This doesn't necessarily mean you're getting a lot through your diet, though. As foods are processed, MSM is destroyed. You may be able to increase the amount you get in food by concentrating on fresh whole foods.

Natural vs. Created MSM

While MSM exists in nature, the form that's marketed as a supplement is a chemical compound derived from DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide).

DMSO is available in an industrial grade and a medical-grade. DMSO was touted as a miracle treatment for arthritis in the 1960s but became controversial because of potential problems and unpleasant side effects. As DMSO faded from use as an arthritis treatment, MSM gained momentum.

Forms of MSM

MSM is primarily sold over-the-counter as an oral formulation (solution, tablets, or capsules). It is sometimes combined with other dietary supplements, such as:

Some multi-ingredient joint formulas include many other supplements, as well.

MSM is also available as a topical cream.

Other Names for MSM

  • Dimethyl sulfone
  • Methyl sulfone
  • Sulfonylbismethan
  • Organic sulfur
  • Crystalline dimethyl sulfoxide

MSM Research

MSM not only reduces inflammation, but it also protects your cartilage from degradation, such as that seen in osteoarthritis, by suppressing interleukin 1-beta (IL-1b) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-a), according to a review of literature published in 2017.

The result of lowered inflammation and cartilage preservation is an improved range of motion and physical function.

MSM can also reduce exercise-related muscle damage, especially when taken before strenuous resistance or endurance exercises, the review states. This is believed to be due to its antioxidant effects.

Evidence of Effectiveness
  • Arthritis

  • Interstitial cystitis

  • Allergic rhinitis (seasonal allergies)

  • Acute exercise-induced inflammation

  • Other inflammatory conditions

  • Supporting immune response

  • Improving skin quality and texture

  • Suppressing cancer-cell growth

Less Evidence of Effectiveness
  • Stress relief

  • Parasitic infections

  • Boosting energy

  • Increasing metabolism

  • Enhancing circulation

  • Improved wound healing

MSM and Alcohol

MSM may increase your sensitivity to alcohol, according to anecdotal evidence. Some other sulfur-containing molecules are used to combat alcoholism due to severe side effects from the combination.

However, researchers haven't yet specifically explored MSM's relationship with alcohol. Until more is known, it's best to be cautious with alcohol while you're taking MSM.

Before Trying MSM

Be sure to inform your healthcare provider that you are going to take MSM. Interactions between MSM and other prescription medications, non-prescription medications, dietary supplements, or herbal remedies are possible but unknown.

If you are going to buy MSM, it is important to buy from a reputable manufacturer or vendor. Choose a product with a USP notation (for US Pharmacopoeia standards). It is important to select a quality brand. Different brands may vary in the amount of active ingredient they contain.

How to Take MSM

The Arthritis Foundation recommends a dosage of 1,000 to 3,000 mg a day. Note any side effects and notify your healthcare provider.

After starting MSM, allow a reasonable amount of time to notice any benefits. If, after a certain time period, you do not notice any benefit, decide along with your practitioner if you should discontinue MSM.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the supplement MSM used for?

    MSM, methylsulfonylmethane, is a supplement that can ease pain and inflammation. It is marketed as a treatment for arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout, and exercise-related muscle pain.

  • Does MSM affect gut health?

    It is unclear whether MSM affects gut health. Some alternative health publications suggest MSM may treat leaky gut syndrome, but there are no scientific studies to back this claim. In addition, taking MSM may cause stomach upset or diarrhea.

  • What does MSM do to the brain?

    MSM is used as a pain reliever, but it does not affect the brain or make you disoriented in the way opioid pain relievers can. MSM crosses the blood-brain barrier, but its effects on the brain are unknown.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Butawan M, Benjamin RL, Bloomer RJ. Methylsulfonylmethane: Applications and safety of a novel dietary supplementNutrients. 2017;9(3):290. doi:10.3390/nu9030290

  2. Kaiser, LG, Russell, D, Maschmeyer, T, Redfern, RL, Inglis, BA. Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM): A chemical shift reference for 1H MRS of human brainMagn Reson Med. 2020;83:1157–1167. doi:10.1002/mrm.27997

  3. Butawan M, Benjamin RL, Bloomer RJ. Methylsulfonylmethane: Applications and safety of a novel dietary supplementNutrients. 2017; 9(3):290. doi:10.3390/nu9030290

  4. Arthritis Foundation. Supplement and herb guide for arthritis symptoms.

Additional Reading

By Carol Eustice
Carol Eustice is a writer covering arthritis and chronic illness, who herself has been diagnosed with both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.