MSM Supplements: Benefits And Risks (Methylsulfonylmethane) (2024)

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a naturally-occurring compound, commonly found in dietary supplements primarily used for treating arthritis and inflammation. Research suggests it may offer additional benefits, including reduced muscle soreness after exercise, relief from seasonal allergies and even support for cancer treatment.

Read on to learn more about MSM, research supporting its benefits and expert advice on its use and potential side effects.

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What Is MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane)?

MSM is an compound naturally found in plants, animals and humans. Small amounts of MSM are present in foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, beer, port wine, coffee, tea and cow’s milk. It’s also synthetically produced in labs and offered as a dietary supplement.

MSM is most commonly used as an anti-inflammatory, though research suggests it may also be helpful for conditions such as arthritis, post-exercise muscle soreness, oxidative stress, seasonal allergies and cancer. It may also help improve skin quality. Research suggests it does this by altering inflammatory pathways in the cells and modulating the immune response.

Since the amount of MSM found naturally in foods is small, an MSM supplement is typically required in order to get the full benefits of the compound.

Benefits of MSM Supplements

Though it’s most well-known for its anti-inflammatory qualities and potential for treating arthritis, MSM may offer a range of health benefits. Below are some of MSM’s research-based benefits, along with expert recommendations on its use.

Eases Joint Pain and Arthritis

MSM supplements are most commonly used to treat arthritis, says integrative and functional medicine doctor Casey Kelley, M.D., founder and medical director of Case Integrative Health in Chicago. “Not only does the supplement decrease inflammation throughout the body, but it also prevents the breakdown of cartilage,” she explains.

In a well-designed study in the International Journal of Biomedical Science, people with symptoms of joint degeneration who took 1,200 milligrams of MSM for 12 weeks reported decreased pain and less stiffness and swelling of joints when compared to those who took a placebo, says Dr. Kelley[1]Xu G, Zhou T, Gu Y, et al. Evaluation of the Effect of Mega MSM on Improving Joint Function in Populations Experiencing Joint Degeneration. Int J Biomed Sci. 2015;11(2):54. .

“In my opinion, MSM can be used with a reasonable chance of success to reduce pain and inflammation in arthritis,” agrees Akil Palanisamy, M.D., author of the upcoming The TIGER Protocol: An Integrative, 5-Step Program to Treat and Heal Your Autoimmunity, who blends integrative and functional medicine with an expertise in Ayurveda in San Francisco, California.

Dr. Palanisamy cites a smaller study in BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies that found people with osteoarthritis of the knee who took 1.125 grams of MSM three times daily for 12 weeks experienced small improvements in pain and physical function compared to those who took a placebo [2]Debbi EM, Agar G, Fichman G, et al. Efficacy of methylsulfonylmethane supplementation on osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized controlled study. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2011;11:50. .

“In my patients with arthritis who are seeking natural alternatives and trying to reduce medication use, MSM is one of my go-to options,” adds Dr. Palanisamy.

Reduces Inflammation

While people take MSM for a variety of reasons, the supplement first gained popularity for its anti-inflammatory qualities, says Dr. Kelly.

“Research has shown that MSM has astounding antioxidant capabilities and may shield cardiac cells from the inflammatory response,” notes functional and lifestyle medicine doctor Scott Noorda, D.O. at Resolve Medical in Utah.

Dr. Noorda cites a 2018 in-vitro study in the American Journal of Cardiovascular Disease. In the study, cardiac cells treated with MSM along with pro-inflammatory proteins known as tumor necrosis factor a (TNF-a) had a lower inflammatory response than those treated only with TNF-a[3]Miller LE. Methylsulfonylmethane decreases inflammatory response to tumor necrosis factor-α in cardiac cells. Am J Cardiovasc Dis. 2018;8(3):31-38. . These results indicate that MSM may protect against inflammation in the heart and inflammation-associated cardiovascular diseases, according to the study’s authors.

May Speed Recovery After Exercise

Beyond arthritis, limited evidence suggests MSM may aid in recovery from exercise-induced muscle and joint pain, notes Dr. Kelley.

In one small but well-designed study, people who took 3 grams of MSM daily for three weeks following completion of a half-marathon had slightly less post-exercise muscle and joint pain compared to those who took a placebo[4]Withee ED, Tippens KM, Dehen R, Hanes D. Effects of MSM on exercise-induced muscle and joint pain: a pilot study. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2015 12:1. 2015;12(1):1-2. . However, the differences were not statistically significant.

In another small, double-blind, placebo-controlled study in the Journal of Sports Medicine, 40 men were given either 3 grams of MSM or a placebo daily for four weeks. The men then performed a set of lower body exercises and continued to take either MSM or a placebo for three days following the exercises.

Those who took MSM had less tissue damage and inflammation following the exercise compared to those who took a placebo. The study authors note that this supports the potential for MSM to reduce muscle soreness after exercise[5]Merwe M van der, Bloomer RJ. The Influence of Methylsulfonylmethane on Inflammation-Associated Cytokine Release before and following Strenuous Exercise. Journal of Sports Medicine. 2016;2016:1-9. .

Because these studies are so small, more research is needed to know whether supplementing with MSM can improve post-exercise muscle and joint soreness.

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May Help Treat Seasonal Allergies

Limited research suggests MSM supplements could help treat seasonal allergic rhinitis. In one older study from 2002 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 50 people with allergic rhinitis consumed 2,600 milligrams of MSM for 30 days. They experienced significantly improved respiratory symptoms and increased energy levels. However, the study was small and was not randomized or placebo controlled[6]Barrager E, Veltmann JR, Schauss AG, Schiller RN. A Multicentered, Open-Label Trial on the Safety and Efficacy of Methylsulfonylmethane in the Treatment of Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis. https://home.liebertpub.com/acm. 2004;8(2):167-173. .

Although some people do take MSM for seasonal allergies, the data is weak, explains Dr. Palanisamy. For this reason, he does not recommend taking MSM for allergic rhinitis.

May Help Fight Cancer

Recent research suggests MSM may help slow the spread of certain cancers and promote cancer cell death.

“Numerous studies show [MSM supplements] can inhibit the growth of various cancers,” notes Dr. Kelley. She highlights a study in the International Journal of Oncology that shows MSM inhibited human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) expression (a DEFINE) in breast cancer cells[7]Darvin P, Yoo YB, Joung YH, Sp N, Byun HJ, Yang YM. Methylsulfonylmethane inhibits HER2 expression through STAT5b in breast cancer cells. Dong Young Kang1 Int J Oncol. 2016;48(2):836-842. .

Another study suggests MSM may improve the way chemotherapy drugs affect cancer cells and may itself induce endometrial cancer cell death[8]Kowalska K, Habrowska-Górczyńska DE, Kurczewska D, Domińska K, Urbanek KA, Piastowska-Ciesielska AW. Methylsulfonylmethane sensitizes endometrial cancer cells to doxorubicin. Cell Biol Toxicol. 2021;37(2):261-275. .

While more studies are needed to fully understand the potential role of MSM in cancer treatment, this is a promising new area of study.

Improved Skin Firmness

Limited research suggests MSM supplements may decrease the appearance of wrinkles and improve skin firmness and elasticity.

In a small 2022 study in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research, 20 participants consumed either 3 grams of MSM or a placebo daily for 16 weeks. Those who took the MSM supplements had significantly reduced facial wrinkles and smoother skin than those who took the placebo[9]Muizzuddin N, Benjamin R. Beauty from within: Oral administration of a sulfur-containing supplement methylsulfonylmethane improves signs of skin ageing. 2020;92(3-4):182-191. .

In the study’s second phase, 63 people consumed either 1 or 3 grams of MSM daily for 16 weeks. Participants taking both 1 and 3 gram doses showed significant improvement in severity of facial wrinkles, skin firmness, elasticity and hydration[9]Muizzuddin N, Benjamin R. Beauty from within: Oral administration of a sulfur-containing supplement methylsulfonylmethane improves signs of skin ageing. 2020;92(3-4):182-191. .

While the mechanism of action is unclear, the study’s authors suggest MSM’s effect on skin firmness may be due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. While this study is promising, more research is needed to know whether MSM supplements can reduce signs of skin aging.

MSM Supplement Risks

MSM is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and can be taken with minimal side effects by most individuals at dosages up to 4 grams daily[10]GRAS Notices. FDA. Accessed 4/2/2023. . “Generally, MSM supplements are well-tolerated, however, some individuals might experience stomach discomfort including nausea and diarrhea, or skin irritation,” explains Dr. Kelley.

“As MSM is a sulfuric compound, those with a sulfa-medication allergy might be concerned; however, there is little data to prove there is a cross-reactivity/allergy with MSM,” adds Dr. Kelley. While it’s considered safe to take MSM if you have a sulfa allergy, Dr. Kelley advises consulting with your physician first. She also recommends avoiding MSM if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, since the risks aren’t well documented.

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How to Decide If an MSM Supplement Is Right for You

“If you’re struggling with arthritic or other musculoskeletal pain, MSM supplements are certainly worth speaking to your doctor about—particularly if you’re looking to avoid more invasive treatments,” advises Dr. Kelley.

Dr. Palanisamy agrees—the strongest data on the effectiveness of MSM is for its “anti-inflammatory effect in osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis,” he explains. “For someone who is looking for a natural supplement that could potentially be helpful in reducing pain and improving function, MSM would be a reasonable option to try.”

“Whenever you’re thinking of adding a new supplement to your routine, it’s best to consult with your doctor,” who can help you decide on the optimal dosage and consider any possible risks or drug interactions, notes Dr. Kelley.

As with any supplement, choose a high-quality product that has been third-party tested for purity and potency.

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MSM Supplements: Benefits And Risks (Methylsulfonylmethane) (2024)

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