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MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane)

MSM is a chemical in animals, humans, and many plants. People use it most often to try to treat arthritis.

MSM can be produced in a lab, where it is sometimes combined with other supplements such as glucosamine or chondroitin.

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Why do people take MSM?

People take MSM by mouth or apply it to the skin, mostly using it to lessen inflammation.

They take MSM to try to relieve pain or swelling from:

  • Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Bursitis, tendinitis, or tenosynovitis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Muscle cramps
  • Scleroderma
  • 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:

  • Scar tissue or stretch marks
  • Wrinkles
  • Wind or sun burn
  • Wounds, cuts, or abrasions

Or they may take it to try to treat gastrointestinal problems such as:

  • Chronic constipation
  • Ulcers
  • Diverticulosis (a bowel disease)

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.

However, there is evidence that MSM may help a bit with the pain and swelling of knee osteoarthritis. Also, early animal research shows some promise for decreasing joint degeneration.

Limited small studies also show that MSM may help with exercise recovery. But researchers have more work to do to confirm this.

MSM has shown some effectiveness for treating allergies, repetitive stress injuries, certain bladder disorders like intestinal cystitis, and wounds.

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.

Can you get MSM naturally from foods

Very small amounts of MSM can be found in:

  • Fruit
  • Corn
  • Tomatoes
  • Tea and coffee
  • Milk

But the amounts in these foods are a small fraction of the amount in supplements.

What are the risks of taking MSM?

Chances are it is safe if you take MSM by mouth for three months or fewer.

Side effects. There isn't enough information about MSM's safety when you apply it to the skin.

So far studies have not shown side effects when MSM is taken orally.

Risks. Don't take any chances if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Doctors don't know enough about the safety of MSM in these circumstances. So it's best not to take it.

Interactions. There doesn't appear to be an interaction between MSM and medications, herbs, supplements, or foods.

The FDA does not regulate supplements. Be sure to tell your doctor about any supplements you’re taking, even if they’re natural. That way, he or she can check on any potential side effects or interactions with medications, foods, or other herbs and supplements. Your doctor can let you know if the supplement might raise your risks.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David Kiefer, MD on January 10, 2013

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