MSM for Arthritis: Miracle Pill or Snake Oil?
In a written statement, the Arthritis Foundation notes that at this time, there is not enough evidence available about MSM's effectiveness and, therefore, it is considered an unproven remedy.
While there has been extensive anecdotal evidence reported and some studies, the Arthritis Foundation is unaware of significant long-term studies involving large numbers of patients to assess the safety and long-term benefits or harm of the chemical, according to the statement.
David Pisetsky, MD, chief of rheumatology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., agrees.
"These substances are being used as drugs and they have interactions with other medications and can be a problem in people with conditions we don't know about," he tells WebMD.
"These are drugs and they do have side effects and haven't been put to the test the way conventional pharmaceuticals have," he says. "There are a lot of good, new classes of arthritis drugs that work very well and have been tested."
Another problem with MSM and other supplements is that "they are not inexpensive, and patients spend a lot of money on unproven alternative therapies and then they don't want to spend money on prescription medications," Pisetsky says.
When it comes to MSM and all supplements, buyer beware, Gilbert Ross, MD, tells WebMD. Ross is medical director for the American Council On Science and Health, a nonprofit consumer education group in New York City.
"Supplements are not regulated by the FDA, and as such, you can never be sure what it is you are getting," he says.
About 2.5 million people suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, a disease characterized by the inflammation of the membrane that lines the joint, causing pain, warmth, redness, and swelling.
In a small study and in anecdotal reports, the supplement MSM, methyl sulfonylmethane, has been shown to be effective against rheumatoid arthritis.
The safety and long-term benefits of the drug have not yet been determined, so some physicians warn patients to exercise caution in using MSM.