Methylsulfonylmethane, more commonly known as MSM, is a popular dietary supplement used to treat a wide array of symptoms and conditions.
It’s a sulfur-containing compound found naturally in plants, animals and humans. It can also be produced in a lab to create dietary supplements in powder or capsule form.
MSM is widely used in the alternative medicine field and by people looking for a natural way to relieve joint pain, reduce inflammation and boost immunity.
In addition, research supports its use in treating a number of conditions from arthritis to rosacea.
One of the most popular uses of MSM is to decrease joint or muscle pain.
It has been shown to benefit those with joint degeneration, a common cause of pain in the knees, back, hands and hips.
Joint degeneration can negatively impact your quality of life by limiting your movement and mobility.
A study in 100 people over the age of 50 found that treatment with a supplement containing 1,200 mg of MSM for 12 weeks decreased pain, stiffness and swelling in the joints, compared to a placebo (2).
The group receiving the supplement also reported improved overall quality of life and less difficulty walking and getting out of bed (2).
Another study in 32 people with lower back pain found that taking a glucosamine supplement containing MSM significantly reduced lumbar stiffness and pain upon movement, plus greatly increased quality of life (3).
Summary Studies have shown that MSM is effective in reducing joint pain, stiffness and swelling. In doing so, it can improve your quality of life.
The anti-inflammatory properties of MSM are well documented by scientific research.
It’s believed that MSM inhibits NF-kB, a protein complex involved in inflammatory responses in your body (4).
It also reduces the production of cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-ɑ) and interleukin 6 (IL-6), which are signaling proteins linked to systemic inflammation (5).
Additionally, MSM can increase levels of glutathione, a potent antioxidant produced by your body.
For example, supplementing with MSM significantly reduced inflammation in mice with stomach ulcers by inhibiting the release of inflammatory cytokines including TNF-ɑ and IL-6, as well as increasing glutathione levels (6).
Another study in 40 physically active men showed that taking 3 grams of MSM before exhaustive exercise decreased the release of inflammatory cytokines and prevented the over-stress of immune cells, compared to a placebo (7).
Summary MSM may reduce the release of molecules associated with inflammation, such as TNF-ɑ and IL-6, as well as boost levels of the powerful antioxidant glutathione.
During exhaustive exercise, muscle damage occurs and oxidative stress increases (8).
This causes athletes to experience muscle soreness and pain, which can hinder athletic performance and training.
MSM can naturally speed muscle recovery after intense exercise by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress.
A study in 18 men showed that taking 50 mg of MSM powder per kg of body weight for 10 days significantly reduced exercise-induced muscle damage and increased antioxidant activity following an 8.7 mile (14 km) run (9).
It may also be beneficial for reducing pain after prolonged exercise.
In one study, 22 healthy women received 3 grams of MSM or a placebo per day for three weeks leading up to a half marathon. The MSM group reported less muscle soreness and joint pain than the placebo group (10).
Another study found that athletic men taking 3 grams of MSM daily for two weeks had lower levels of IL-6 and less muscle pain after intense resistance exercise (11).
Summary MSM may help reduce pain, muscle damage and oxidative stress after intense exercise, helping you recover more quickly.
Arthritis is a common inflammatory condition that causes pain, stiffness and a reduced range of motion in your joints.
Since MSM has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, it’s often used as a natural alternative to medications to improve arthritis-related symptoms.
A study in 49 people with knee osteoarthritis found that taking 3.4 grams of MSM per day for 12 weeks reduced pain and stiffness and improved physical function, compared to a placebo (12).
Additionally, it can enhance the effectiveness of other common supplements used to treat arthritis such as glucosamine sulfate, chondroitin sulfate and boswellic acid.
One study found that combining MSM with glucosamine and chondroitin was more effective at decreasing pain and stiffness in people with knee osteoarthritis than glucosamine and chondroitin alone (13).
Another study showed that a daily supplement containing 5 grams of MSM and 7 grams of boswellic acid was more effective than glucosamine at reducing pain and improving function in people with knee osteoarthritis (14).
What’s more, the people who received the MSM and boswellic acid supplement were less dependent on anti-inflammatory medications than the glucosamine group (14).
Summary MSM supplements have been shown to help reduce pain and stiffness in people with arthritis. They may also help improve physical function.
Allergic rhinitis is an allergic reaction that causes symptoms such as watery eyes, sneezing, itching, runny nose and nasal congestion (15).
Common triggers of allergic rhinitis include animal dander, pollen and molds.
After exposure to an allergen, many inflammatory substances such as prostaglandins and cytokines are released, which leads to unpleasant symptoms.
Studies have shown that MSM may be effective in reducing symptoms of allergic rhinitis.
It may decrease allergic reactions by lowering inflammation and inhibiting the release of cytokines and prostaglandins (16).
A study in 50 people with allergic rhinitis found that a dose of 2,600 mg of MSM per day over 30 days reduced symptoms including itching, congestion, shortness of breath, sneezing and coughing (17).
Additionally, participants experienced a significant increase in energy by day 14 (17).
Summary MSM may help reduce allergy-related symptoms — including coughing, shortness of breath, congestion, sneezing and fatigue — by reducing inflammation.
Your immune system is a specialized network of tissues, cells and organs that protects your body against illness and disease.
It can be weakened by things like stress, illness, a poor diet, insufficient sleep or lack of activity.
Sulfur compounds such as MSM play important roles in the health of your immune system (18).
For example, MSM may be effective in reducing oxidative stress and inflammation that can weaken immunity. Since it’s effective in reducing levels of inflammatory compounds like IL-6 and TNF-ɑ, MSM may reduce stress on your immune system.
Additionally, it plays a part in the creation of glutathione, your body’s master antioxidant. It may also help increase levels of this important compound.
Having adequate levels of glutathione is crucial for the overall health and function of your immune system (19).
A test-tube study showed that MSM effectively restored glutathione levels and reduced inflammatory markers in mouse cells that had been weakened with HIV proteins (20).
Summary MSM may help boost your immune system by reducing inflammation and increasing glutathione levels.
Keratin is a protein that acts as the main structural component in your hair, skin and nails.
It contains high levels of the sulfur-containing amino acid cysteine. That’s why burnt hair gives off a characteristic sulfurous smell.
MSM may be beneficial for skin health by acting as a sulfur donor to keratin. This, in turn, can help strengthen this important protein.
MSM also helps reduce inflammation, which can damage skin cells and cause signs of premature aging like wrinkles (21).
It may even reduce symptoms of problematic skin conditions such as rosacea, which can cause redness, irritation and inflammation of the skin.
One study showed that, when applied to the skin, MSM significantly improved redness, itching, inflammation, hydration and skin color in people with rosacea (22).
Summary MSM may improve skin health by strengthening keratin and reducing inflammation. It could even help reduce symptoms of certain skin conditions, as well.
One of the newest areas of research involving MSM is studying its effectiveness in fighting cancer cells. Although the research is limited, the results have been promising so far.
It seems to do this by damaging cancer cell DNA and stimulating cancer cell death (28).
MSM also appears to prevent the spread of cancer cells, also known as metastasis (29).
A study in mice with liver cancer showed that those injected with MSM had fewer tumors, smaller tumor size and less liver damage than those who did not receive the treatment (30).
Another mouse study demonstrated that MSM inhibited the growth of human breast cancer cells (31).
Although these results are encouraging, more research is needed to determine the safety and efficacy of using MSM in cancer treatment.
Summary Research has shown that MSM exhibits cancer-fighting properties in test-tube and animal studies, but more research is needed.
MSM is considered safe and is generally well tolerated with minimal side effects.
Major regulatory agencies such as the FDA have given it the Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) designation.
Numerous toxicity studies have been done to assess the safety of MSM and doses up to 4,845.6 mg per day (4.8 grams) appear to be safe (32).
However, some people may experience mild reactions if they are sensitive to MSM, such as stomach issues like nausea, bloating and diarrhea. When applied to the skin, it may also cause mild skin or eye irritation (33, 34).
However, no studies have explored this potentially problematic combination yet.
Summary MSM supplements are generally considered safe. However, they may cause side effects like nausea, diarrhea and skin reactions in some people.
MSM is a popular supplement with a wide variety of uses.
Research shows that it may be helpful in reducing joint pain, lowering inflammation, improving skin health, decreasing allergy symptoms and speeding recovery after exercise.
Additionally, some evidence suggests that MSM can boost the immune system and may have cancer-fighting properties.
MSM is a chemical in animals, humans, and many plants. People use it most often to try to treat arthritis.
Why do people take MSM?
They take MSM to try to relieve pain or swelling from:
- Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis
- Bursitis, tendinitis, or tenosynovitis
- Muscle cramps
- Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders
- Headaches or hangover
- Premenstrual syndrome
- Inflammation in eyes or mucous membranes
People also apply MSM to the skin to try to treat problems such as:
Or they may take it to try to treat gastrointestinal problems such as:
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There is a whole range of other reasons people take MSM. This includes obesity and liver problems, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, gum disease, snoring, infections, lung problems, Alzheimer’s, HIV, and cancer.
The evidence to support taking MSM for most of these is lacking.
Limited small studies also show that MSM may help with exercise recovery. But researchers have more work to do to confirm this.
People usually take from 500 milligrams of MSM three times daily to 3 grams twice daily for osteoarthritis. However, optimal doses of MSM have not been set for any condition. And quality and active ingredients in supplements may vary widely from maker to maker. This makes it hard to set a standard dose.