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'Modest' Arthritis Benefit Seen From MSM

Sulfur Supplement Helps Relieve Pain From Knee Osteoarthritis, Small Study Suggests
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WebMD Health News

Aug. 24, 2005 - A sulfur supplement called MSM offers "modest" pain relief from knee osteoarthritis, a small study suggests.

MSM -- methylsulfonylmethane -- is a popular supplement for which a number of health claims are made. However, rigorous scientific studies of MSM are few and far between.

Now there's a bit more evidence, thanks to a pilot study presented at this week's meeting of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians in Phoenix.

Study leader Leslie Axelrod, ND, of the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Ariz., has already been prescribing MSM to patients with arthritis. She says she's glad to have evidence to back up her clinical impression.

"MSM is a viable option for the treatment of osteoarthritis," Axelrod tells WebMD. "It is valuable to use it in conjunction with diet, exercise, and other things that are beneficial for arthritis patients. Our study shows that MSM significantly reduces pain and increases physical function in patients with knee osteoarthritis."

Small Study, Modest Benefit for MSM

Axelrod's team enrolled 50 men and women, aged 40 to 76, with mild-to-moderate knee osteoarthritis. After a washout period to make sure there were no lingering effects from other drugs, half the patients took 6 grams per day of MSM for 12 weeks. The other 25 patients got an identical-looking placebo.

Axelrod notes that 6 grams per day is a lot of MSM -- twice the dose she usually recommends.

The study results:

  • 21 patients in the MSM group and 19 patients in the placebo group completed the study.
  • Patients who got MSM reported 12% less pain and 14% more knee function than those who got the placebo.
  • Improvements in knee stiffness and overall symptoms favored the MSM group but were not significant.

"These findings suggest MSM may be considered for short-term use in osteoarthritis," Axelrod and colleagues write in their research abstract. "The clinical effects compared to placebo were, however, modest."

Arthritis Foundation Reacts

The Arthritis Foundation says it's unlikely this small study will change its 1999 statement on MSM. "At this time, MSM is classified by the Arthritis Foundation as an unproven remedy," the statement reads.

But Stephen Lindsey, MD, chief of rheumatology at the Ochsner Clinic Foundation Baton Rouge, says MSM is safe enough for patients to give it a try.

"I feel pretty good that MSM does no harm, but it is a pretty modest agent," Lindsey tells WebMD. "You will see an occasional person get good results. I would use it with glucosamine and chondroitin for patients wanting to try a supplement."

Lindsey agrees with the Arthritis Foundation that any arthritis patient using any supplement -- including MSM -- should tell their doctor what they are taking.

And he agrees with Axelrod that lifestyle changes -- weight control, modest exercise, and good diet -- are at least as important to arthritis treatment as any drug or supplement a person can take.

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