The popularity of methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) as a dietary supplement has grown since the ingredient’s introduction over 25 years ago. As a supplement, MSM is taken for many purposes, most commonly as an anti-inflammatory agent and dietary support for joint health and mobility. Studies have shown that a variety of health-outcome measures improve with MSM supplementation, including: inflammation, joint and muscle pain, oxidative stress, immune modulation, and skin appearance.
Over the years, researchers have performed an abundance of studies supporting multiple applications for MSM. Recently, a comprehensive discussion of the collective research was encapsulated in a review paper published in the journal Nutrients, titled “Methylsulfonylmethane: Applications and Safety of a Novel Dietary Supplement.” (1) In the review, the authors explore MSM’s activity in the body and its potential mechanisms of action, including as an anti-inflammatory, an antioxidant, and an immune modulator. The paper also discusses MSM’s specific benefits for reducing joint-associated inflammation, helping to preserve cartilage, reducing oxidative stress, and even reducing muscle soreness associated with exercise. Moreover, the authors discuss MSM’s other notable benefits for skin health, with some evidence suggesting that MSM may improve skin quality and texture by acting as a sulfur donor to keratin. Finally, the authors discuss MSM’s common uses and safety profile, noting that MSM appears to be well-tolerated and safe.
1. Butawan M et al., “Methylsulfonylmethane: applications and safety of a novel dietary supplement.” Nutrients. Published online March 16, 2017.
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MSM for Joint Health and Mobility
Osteoarthritis, a common, non-inflammatory, degenerative arthritis, causes moderate to major disability in an increasing number of the elderly population. Analgesic drugs and surgical interventions are commonly used to attenuate the severe pain that often accompanies osteoarthritis; however, complementary and alternative treatments are gaining popularity as a way to help lessen the pain. MSM, either taken alone or with glucosamine and/or chondroitin sulfate, may represent an alternative—and effective—way to control the pain associated with osteoarthritis.
A randomized, placebo-controlled trial (2) including 100 subjects with hip and/or knee osteoarthritis sought to further establish MSM’s potential for joint health and mobility. At the time of this study’s publication, only one randomized, controlled trial on MSM and osteoarthritis existed. Like this study, the first trial showed significant decrease in osteoarthritic pain.
The study subjects were divided into two groups. The first group was given a dosage of 6 g/day (3 g twice daily) of distilled MSM powder, while the second group received the equivalent dosage of a placebo. Over a period of 26 weeks, the study authors recorded subjects’ “study target,” or the particular joint or joints that individual patients informed researchers exhibited the worst pain. In order to assess the osteoarthritis symptoms, the researchers used the Western Ontario and McMaster University Arthritis Index VAS (WOMAC version 3.1). The WOMAC includes subscales on pain, stiffness, physical function, and cumulative total symptoms. WOMAC calculations were recorded at baseline and again at 26 weeks (the end of the study).
At the end of the study period, the study authors noted that subjects given MSM experienced significantly less joint pain and stiffness. Indeed, all WOMAC subscales reflected significant improvements in osteoarthritis symptoms for the MSM group over the placebo group. While the results are promising, additional data is needed to confirm the effects.
2. Pagonis TA et al., “The effect of methylsulfonylmethane on osteoarthritic large joints and mobility.” International Journal of Orthopaedics. Published online June 23, 2014.
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MSM for Exercise Performance and Muscle Recovery
Inflammation and oxidative stress are by-products of strenuous exercise, and lead to pain and/or discomfort. This, in turn, can inhibit recovery time. While earlier studies have demonstrated MSM’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, a 2013 pilot proof-of-concept study (3) examined the potential relationship between MSM and post-exercise pain, specifically.
In this study, researchers randomly assigned 24 moderately exercise-trained adult men to one of two groups: a group supplemented with 3 mg/day of Bergstrom Nutrition’s (Vancouver, WA) OptiMSM, or a control group given the equivalent dosage of a placebo. The study involved three tests and was conducted over 14 days with a 17-day washout period in between. Each of the three tests involved two visits. In the first visit, participants performed 28 total sets of leg extensions. Two days later, participants completed the second test, which involved 12 total sets of leg extensions. The researchers measured participants’ muscle discomfort or pain using a 10-point VAS scale and measurements of inflammation, blood antioxidant status, and homocysteine, before the exercise as well as at 2 and 48 hours post-exercise. In addition, exercise performance was recorded at 14 days of MSM or placebo supplementation.
The group given MSM exhibited significantly less pain or discomfort than did the group given the placebo. While no substantial differences were recorded for the other biomarkers, the researchers concluded that MSM has the potential to help reduce the discomfort and pain that often follows rigorous exercise.
3. Kalman D et al., “A randomized double blind placebo controlled evaluation of MSM for exercise induced discomfort/pain.” FASEB Journal, vol. 27, no. 1 (April 2013)
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MSM for Skin Health
Antiaging products usually focus on preserving the health of the skin—the largest organ of the body—from an outside-in perspective. But consumers are increasingly interested in beauty products and oral supplements that support healthy skin from within.
A 2015 study (4), led by Michael Anthonavage, assessed the efficacy of Bergstrom’s OptiMSM as an oral supplement for overall skin health and wrinkle reduction. Twenty female participants were given either 3 g/day of MSM or the equivalent dose of a placebo for 16 weeks. The researchers evaluated skin health through expert grading, instrumentation, and participants’ self-assessment at baseline, at eight weeks, and at 16 weeks.
The MSM supplement was shown to regulate the genomic expression of key genes responsible for skin health and the prevention of aging. In addition, the group given MSM demonstrated significant improvements in the appearance of wrinkles and skin firmness, compared with the placebo group. The MSM group also had significantly fewer, smaller, and less severe wrinkles and deep lines, compared to the placebo group.
The study indicated that MSM supplementation may be beneficial for overall skin health, with particular benefits for reducing fine lines and wrinkles.
4. Anthonavage M et al., “Effects of oral supplementation with methylsulfonylmethane on skin health and wrinkle reduction.” Natural Medicine Journal, vol. 7, no. 11 (November 2015)
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MSM for Inflammation
The anti-inflammatory properties of MSM have been analyzed in in vitro studies, and it has demonstrated potential to attenuate markers of oxidative stress and muscle damage following short bouts of intense exercise.
A recent study (5), led by Mariè van der Merwe and Richard J. Bloomer of the University of Memphis, sought to evaluate the effects of MSM supplementation on inflammation related to strenuous exercise and whether this in turn prevents cells from responding appropriately to additional stimuli post-exercise. Specifically, the researchers hypothesized that MSM supplementation would reduce inflammatory cytokine production in ex vivo and in vivo testing. In the study, 40 physically active men were supplemented with either 3 g/day of Bergstrom’s OptiMSM or a placebo for a study period of 28 days. Following the supplementation period, subjects were instructed to perform 10 sets of 10 repetitions of eccentric knee extensions with a two-minute rest period between sets. The researchers took blood samples to measure cytokine production once at baseline, then at 24, 48, and 72 hours post-exercise, and once more at the end of the study period.
The subjects’ blood was exposed to lipopolysaccharide (LPS) ex vivo, thus inducing cytokine release; the cytokine levels for each subject were determined in vivo. The researchers found that MSM inhibited the secretion of the IL-1β cytokine marker in particular, and likely also the IL-6 and TNF-α markers, albeit to a lesser degree. The results indicated that MSM acts as an antioxidant, reducing induction of various cytokine markers.
Overall, supplementation with MSM did reduce resting pro-inflammatory cytokines, while values for these cytokine markers increased in the placebo group. MSM, acting as an antioxidant, may be able to blunt tissue damage and inflammation, as well as diminish muscle soreness, following intense exercise.
5. Merwe M et al., “The influence of methylsulfonylmethane on inflammation-associated cytokine release before and following strenuous exercise.” Journal of Sports Medicine. Published online September 29, 2016.
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Daily MSM to Alleviate Oxidative Stress
Given its purported anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, MSM has previously been studied for pre- and post-exercise supplementation. But a 2011 study (6) led by Babak Nakhostin-Roohi sought to determine whether daily supplementation with MSM would affect markers of oxidative stress following acute bouts of exercise in untrained, healthy young men.
Eighteen participants were randomized to receive either 50 mg/kg of MSM in 200 ml of water, or 200 ml water as a placebo. The participants took the supplement or placebo daily for 10 days before running 14 km. The study authors took blood samples immediately following the run, as well as at 30 minutes, 2, 24, and 48 hours post-exercise.
The researchers found that the acute exercise resulted in elevated levels of serum malondialdehyde, protein carbonyl, and plasma oxidized glutathione, indicating increased oxidative stress. The group supplemented with MSM, however, maintained lower levels of those markers after the run than did the placebo group. In addition, the researchers observed significantly higher plasma levels of plasma-reduced glutathione and a higher ratio of plasma-reduced glutathione to plasma oxidized glutathione compared with placebo, meaning that the subjects given MSM exhibited increased antioxidant capacity.
According to the authors, this study marked the first research on the effects of chronic administration of MSM on exercise-related oxidative stress. The results indicated that daily supplementation with MSM does have some alleviating effects on markers of oxidative stress following intense bouts of exercise, though the researchers noted that further research is needed.
6. Nakhostin-Roohi B et al., “Effect of chronic supplementation with methysulfonylmethane on oxidative stress following acute exercise in untrained health men.” Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. Published online August 1, 2011.
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