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What is MSM? Why do we need it?

MSM is short for methylsulfonylmethane. It is a naturally occurring chemical compound that contains high amounts of organic sulfur, and is related to another substance sometimes used as a dietary supplement, DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide). MSM is found throughout nature; in humans, it shows up in tiny amounts in the blood and urine.

The exact role MSM plays in the body is unclear, although it does appear to play a role in the formation and maintenance of joints. One large trial of people with osteoarthritis found that patients taking an average of 2,250 milligrams of MSM per day reduced pain and inflammation in the joints after six weeks. Other studies regarding the efficacy of MSM have taken place in animals; for instance, mice with arthritic joints have experienced less deterioration of the joints after being given MSM supplements.

How much MSM should I take?

The exact amount of MSM that should be taken has yet to be established. Some scientists recommend between 250 and 500 milligrams per day; other studies have used much larger doses (>2,000 milligrams per day).

What forms of MSM are available?

MSM occurs throughout nature and is found in some plant foods, but only in trace amounts; the amount of MSM in most foods has yet to be determined. Supplements containing MSM can be found at most health food stores and some supermarkets, and are usually available as tablets or capsules. MSM is also included in some multivitamin, multimineral supplements.

What can happen if I take too much MSM? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Whether MSM supplementation causes any unwanted side-effects remains unclear. Some studies have shown that patients may take up to 2,000 milligrams per day without suffering any adverse side-effects. Other studies, however, have shown that minor side-effects may be experienced in some patients, with diarrhea, skin rashes and headaches most often reported.

As of this writing, there are no known drug interactions associated with MSM. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking MSM or any other dietary supplement or herbal remedy.


  • Lawrence RM. Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM): a double-blind study of its use in degenerative arthritis. Int J of Anti-Aging Med 1998;1:50.
  • Murav'ev IuV, Venikova MS, Pleskovskaia GN, et al. Effect of dimethyl sulfoxide and dimethyl sulfone on a destructive process in the joints of mice with spontaneous arthritis. Patol Fiziol Eksp Ter 1991;2:37-9. In Russian.
  • Parcell S. Sulfur in human nutrition and applications in medicine. Altern Med Rev Feb 2002;7(1):22-44.
  • Rizzo R, Grandolfo M, Godeas C, et al. Calcium, sulfur, and zinc distribution in normal and arthritic articular equine cartilage: a synchrotron radiation-induced X-ray emission (SRIXE) study. J Exp Zool 1995;273:82-6.
  • Robb-Nicholson C. By the way, doctor. Is MSM as good as it sounds? Can you tell me anything about the dietary supplement MSM? I've heard it's supposed to relieve arthritis pain. Harv Womens Health Watch Aug 2002;9(12):8.
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