The Health Benefits of MSM

This sulfur-rich supplement may provide pain relief

MSM capsules, crystals, powder, and milk

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

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Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a chemical found naturally in certain foods—cow's milk, some types of meat, seafood, fruits, and vegetables—and is also sold in dietary supplement and cream form. MSM contains sulfur, a chemical element known to play a role in many biological processes. Some believe that it can treat a wide range of health problems—most notably, arthritis.

Proponents suggest that increasing your use of sulfur can improve your health, in part by fighting chronic inflammation. Sulfur deficiency in humans is very rare, however.

Health Benefits

Methylsulfonylmethane became popular in 1999 after the publication of a book that promoted the supplement's pain relief benefits. The book's author claimed that MSM was the first safe, natural, side-effect-free remedy for many types of pain and inflammatory conditions. However, there is very little scientific evidence supporting these claims. Studies investigating the health effects of MSM are limited.

Osteoarthritis

There is 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 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.

A different study, published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2011, involved 49 men and women with osteoarthritis of the knee. Researchers demonstrated 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.

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.

Researchers treated 46 patients with rosacea 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. However, it is unclear if it was the MSM, the milk thistle, or the combination that provided the benefit.

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.

The study involved 55 people with seasonal allergies, 50 of whom participated from start to finish. After 30 days of taking 2,600 milligrams (mg) of MSM daily, study members had a significant reduction in allergy-related respiratory symptoms. They also experienced an improvement in their energy levels. However, there were not significant changes in histamine or immunoglobulin E (IgE) levels, and there was no placebo group to serve as a control.

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 hemorrhoid symptoms such as pain, bleeding, inflammation, and irritation.

The study involved 36 adults with one to three hemorrhoids. Each of the participants was randomly assigned to use either a gel containing the MSM, hyaluronic acid, and tea tree oil or a placebo twice a day for a period of 14 days.

At the end of the study, both groups showed some improvement. The treatment group showed significant reductions in overall pain, as well as highly significant reductions in pain during evacuation, itching, irritation, and visible bleeding. In the placebo group, there were significant reductions in overall pain, itching, and bleeding.

When comparing the two groups, results suggested that the treatment provided significantly improved outcomes related to pain after evacuation and itching (as judged by the patients) and inflammation and bleeding (as judged by investigators).

Again here, it is not clear which ingredient provided the benefit or if it was the combination of ingredients that was beneficial.

Other Uses

In addition to the above uses, MSM is also used as a natural remedy for the following conditions:

MSM is also 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 directly to the skin, MSM is purported to reverse signs of aging and treat skin conditions such as rosacea.

However, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other sources, there is not enough scientific evidence to support these uses.

Possible Side Effects

MSM may trigger a number of side effects, such as stomach upset, headache, insomnia, and diarrhea. But according to the NIH, the supplement is possibly safe for most people when taken by mouth for up to three months.

When applied to the skin, MSM is possibly safe in combination with other ingredients (such as silymarin or hyaluronic acid and tea tree oil) for up to 20 days. But applying a lotion that contains MSM to the lower limbs can increase swelling and pain in people with varicose veins and other circulatory problems.

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 it.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid MSM as there is not enough evidence to know if it is safe.

MSM crystals

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Dosage and Preparation

MSM is sold in crystal and powder forms, which are usually dissolved in water before they are consumed. MSM is also available in capsule form. Some contain other ingredients such as glucosamine. Topical products like MSM lotions and serums are also available.

There is no recommended dose or recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for MSM or sulfur.

Various doses of MSM have been used in research investigating its potential benefits. For example, in the previously mentioned 2012 study investigating the use of MSM for osteoarthritis, a dose of 1.125 grams (g) was taken three times daily for 12 weeks. But another study used 5 g of MSM plus 7.2 mg of boswellic acid taken daily for 60 days.

The gel containing hyaluronic acid, tea tree oil, and MSM that was used in the aforementioned hemorrhoid treatment study was applied daily for 14 days.

What to Look For

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

If you are considering a product such as MSM for health benefits or to manage a condition, keep in mind that dietary supplements are largely unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is illegal for companies to make marketing claims (on the product label or in advertisements) that promote a dietary supplement as a treatment or cure for a specific disease or to alleviate the symptoms of a disease.

To stay on the safe side, it's best to look for products that have been certified by ConsumerLabs, U.S. Pharmacopeia, or NSF International. These organizations don't guarantee that a product is safe or effective, but they do provide a certain level of testing for quality.

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