MSM:Sulfur Compound Beneficial for Autoimmune Support,
Allergies, Mutagenic Concerns and Parasitic Infections
For more than fifteen years, 70-year-old veteran
actor James Coburn suffered from crippling rheumatoid arthritis. He
explored lifestyle, food allergy elimination diets, deep tissue massage,
electromagnetic energy, homeopathy and even the laying on of hands. The
pain and stiffness remained with small improvements with each new
therapy. In 1998 he was introduced to MSM (methylsulfonylmethane). It
was like a miracle, he says. The pain stopped. In three days I started
to swing a golf club. After six months of MSM the actor says that he has
virtually no pain.1
Mr. Coburn got back into acting and in March 1999 was awarded his first
Oscar in a forty-year career for his performance in Affliction.
MSM is also known as dimethyl sulfone. The sulfur compound is a nutrient
found in the human diet and the natural diets of virtually all other
vertebrates. It is odorless and in its purified chemical form, it is a
water-soluble, white crystalline solid. It belongs in the same chemical
family as oxygen, and in oxygen-depleted environments, sulfur often
replaces oxygen as the source of chemical energy upon which life
thrives. It is a dietary supplement that does not require a
prescription. A daily dose of 1,000 mg is common, and for some
conditions, doses as high as 2 to 6 gm may be appropriate.
MSM is rated as one of the least toxic substances in biology. Common
table salt is much more toxic than MSM. However, some individuals have
reported a detox reaction that passes in one to two days.
Where MSM is found - The Sulfur Cycle
One of the world's prominent atmospheric chemists has suggested that MSM
and its related compounds, DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide) and DMS (dimethyl
sulfide) provide the source for 85 percent of the sulfur found in all
living organisms.1 The cycle begins in the ocean where plankton release
sulfur compounds which are transformed in ocean water into a gas called
dimethyl sulfide (DMS). The volatile compound rises up into the
atmosphere where in the presence of ozone and high energy ultraviolet
light DMS is converted into its cousins, DMSO and MSM. Both DMSO and MSM
are water soluble and when they fall back to earth as rain they are
rapidly absorbed by the root systems of plants where they are
concentrated a hundredfold. MSM and the sulfur it contains are
incorporated into the plant's structure. Then through plant metabolism
the MSM, along with other sulfur compounds that it has spawned, is
ultimately mineralized and transported back to the sea. Then the sulfur
cycle begins anew.
MSM has been found in the blood and adrenal glands of cows.2,3 Cows'
milk is composed of between two and six parts per million MSM.4 Green
vegetables5 are another source of sulfur, particularly the cruciferous
vegetables - Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.
However, everyday food preparation techniques can reduce MSM levels.
Garlic, onions, asparagus, mustard, horseradish and sunflower seeds are
also sulfur-rich. Protein sources of sulfur are the amino acids
methionine and cysteine found in meat, fish, eggs and dairy products.
Sulfur is the eighth most abundant element in all living organisms. In
the human body it forms part of virtually all tissues, especially those
highest in protein, such as blood cells, muscles, skin and hair.
Experiments using MSM that contains radio labeled sulfur have shown that
after ingestion, MSM gives up its sulfur to form the collagen and
keratin of the hair and nails, to form the essential amino acids
methionine, cysteine and to form serum proteins.6
From a healing perspective, there is something special about sulfur. No
matter where one travels, chances are that somewhere near or far there
will be a sulfur hot springs with a healing tradition attached to it.
Mozart and Beethoven frequented a sulfur spring at Baden near Vienna. In
Italy the elegant Salsomaggiore sulfur baths have attracted the likes of
the wife of Napoleon I, Enrico Caruso and Luciano Pavarotti. Hot
Springs, Montana beckons Americans to its Big Medicine waters,
discovered by Native American tribes. It is said to produce relaxation
and relief from arthritis, skin diseases, stomach ulcers, high blood
pressure and many other conditions. Medical literature contains past
references to the use of sulfur baths for healing, particularly
The late Carl Pfeiffer, Ph.D., M.D., a world-renowned expert on
nutritional medicine, once described sulfur as the forgotten essential
element. Odorless and water soluble, MSM is a white crystalline material
that provides an important, bio-available source of dietary sulfur.
Sulfur is a key component in the maintenance of normal body function.7
As an essential dietary element it is responsible for maintaining the
conformation of the body's proteins by forming flexible disulfide bonds
between certain amino acids and in maintaining the integrity of
connective tissue. Thiol (sulfhydryl) groups are vital for the catalytic
function of many enzymes. Blood or urine samples usually will show some
MSM in most people.8 But with age and because of the way foods are
prepared, less MSM is present in the body than is desirable, and with
normal aging MSM levels are even more pronounced so that almost everyone
is deficient, particularly individuals who eat fast foods.
What can MSM do for the human body?
Dr. Stanley W. Jacob and researchers at Oregon Health Sciences
University (OHSU) have developed and worked with MSM for 20 years. Dr.
Jacob is Gerlinger professor at the Department of Surgery at OHSU in
Portland and has used MSM for 20 years. At 74 he continues to practice
as a medical doctor, surgeon and research scientist.
In a phone interview he said that one of the major properties of MSM is
that it is excellent therapy for preventing allergies and reducing pain.
MSM may help reduce inflammatory pain by blocking impulse transmission
in the nonmyelinated nerve fibers that carry pain signals. MSM may also
decrease pain by altering cross-linked collagen, resulting in less scar
tissue. He believes MSM to be the most important substance we have had
for the prevention of allergies since the advent of the antihistamine
agents, which were introduced well over four decades ago. People taking
MSM orally, or sometimes supplementing that with nose drops of diluted
MSM, will not have the uncomfortable burning of the eyes or the running
nose or hoarseness associated with allergies to pollens, dust and molds.
At OHSU researchers have found that MSM has anti-parasitic properties.
The two most common parasites that they studied are giardia and
trichomonas. Giardia may infect the small intestine, which causes poor
nutrient absorption in humans. It is usually the cause of water-borne
diarrhea in the US. MSM has proven to be effective in fighting the
organism when it invades humans and in controlling the symptoms.9
Many women suffer from the discomfort associated with trichomoniasis,
which is caused by a protozoal parasite called trichomonas. Trichomonas
is typically spread through sexual intercourse. Symptoms include
increased vaginal itching and discharge which may be malodorous and
discolored. MSM can serve both as an oral supplement mixed with water or
juice and as a diluted topical application.
People who have become dependent upon antacids and products such as
Tagamet and Zantac can discontinue them by substituting MSM as a
nutritional supplement. It has been shown to be effective in doses of
3,000 mg per day.
Clinical and Laboratory Studies with MSM
There have been many studies conducted under controlled conditions that
show some of the potential MSM has as a therapeutic agent. Among the
items studied are snoring, lupus erythematosus, breast cancer, colon
cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.
Research at OHSU on 35 subjects suffering from chronic snoring has shown
that MSM in a 16 percent solution administered to each nostril 15
minutes prior to sleep provided significant reduction of symptoms in 80
percent of the subjects after one to four days of use.
As a control in eight of the patients who obtained relief with MSM, a
saline solution was substituted for MSM without their knowledge. Seven
of the eight participants in the studies resumed loud snoring. The
change occurred within 24 hours of the substitution. After the MSM
treatment was restored, the eight participants again showed a
significant reduction of snoring. Ninety days after the treatment, none
of the subjects reported any toxic reactions.10
Systemic lupus erythematosus
(SLE) is an inflammatory tissue disease without known cause. It occurs
mostly in young women (90 percent of lupus patients are women) but also
in children. The disease may begin abruptly with a fever, like an acute
infection, or after several months or years with periodic bouts of fever
and fatigue. Most sufferers complain of painful joints as in arthritis.
Patches of raised, red rash also characterize the disease. A type of
kidney dysfunction, lupus nephritis is often involved later in the
course of the disease, and urinary tract infections are also common. The
disease can also affect the heart, lungs, spleen, blood and
gastrointestinal tract. Systemic lupus erythematosus is considered an
autoimmune disease since most patients are found to develop antinuclear
anti-bodies in their blood at some time in the course of the illness.11
Experiments conducted on mice bred for their propensity to acquire lupus
showed MSM to have a protective effect both before and after the onset
of the disease. Mice maintained on a diet including three percent MSM in
their water supply from an age of one month suffered lower death rates
and liver damage than control groups drinking only tap water. After
seven months 30 percent of the control group had died while none of the
MSM-fed mice had died. Also, when seven-month-old mice that were already
showing signs of advanced lupus were fed the MSM diet, 62 percent of the
mice were still alive after nine months, compared to 14 percent of the
control group that received only tap water.12
Research done at Ohio State University College of Medicine13 shows that
oral supplements of MSM can protect rats against the onset of breast
cancer. Rats specially bred to be susceptible to breast cancer, when
given certain carcinogenic compounds were fed a diet containing added
MSM for eight days. Following this preliminary period, the rats were
given doses of the carcinogen dimethylbenzanthracene orally. The health
of the rats was monitored for nearly one year and compared to a similar
group of carcinogen-dosed rats that had not received the MSM in their
diet. Although there was no statistical difference in the number of
tumors developing in the two groups, the MSM diet rats developed their
first tumors some 100 days later than the non-MSM diet rats, and these
tumors became cancerous some 130 days later than those in the control
group. The average life expectancy of rats is two years. This would make
100 days the equivalent to about ten years in human life.
The same researchers from Ohio State Medical College also studied the
protection dietary MSM provides to rats injected with dimethylhydrazine,
a compound that induces colon cancer.13 One group of rats was injected
with the carcinogen. At two-month intervals the rats were examined for
tumors under anesthesia. Rats without any appearance of tumors were
returned to the experiment. Again, the number of bowel tumors occurring
in the rats was statistically the same for treated and untreated rats
over the entire nine months of the experiment. However, the time of
appearance of the first bowel tumors was considerably longer in the MSM
treated rats. The conclusion of the researchers was that MSM
significantly lengthens the time of tumor onset compared to the
Researchers at OHSU studied a strain of mice that were prone to
spontaneous development of joint lesions similar to those in rheumatoid
arthritis.14 They found that animals that were fed a diet that included
a 3 percent solution of MSM in drinking water from the age of two months
until the age of five months suffered no degeneration of articular
cartilage. In a control group of mice receiving only tap water, 50
percent of the animals were found to have focal generation of articular
source of nutrients and supplements.
did we qualify them ?
1. Jacob, S.W. and Lawrence R.M., The Miracle of MSM (G.B. Putnam?s
2. Lovelock, J.E. et al., Atmospheric dimethyl sulphide and the natural
sulphur cycle, Nature, Vol. 237, 452-3 (1972).
3. Ruzicka, L. et al., Isolation of dimethyl sulfone from cow's blood,
Helvetica Chimica Acta, Vol. 23, 559-61, (1940).
4. Pfiffner, J.J. and North, H.B., Dimethyl sulfone: A constituent of
the adrenal gland, Journal of Biological Chemistry, Vol. 131: 731,
5. Pearson, Thomas W., Natural occurring levels of dimethyl sulfoxide in
selected fruits,vegetables, grains and beverages, Journal of
Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Vol. 140:36-39, (1988).
6. Williams, K.I.H., et al., Dimethyl sulfone: Isolation from human
urine, Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Vol. 113: 215-2, (1966).
7. Jacob, S.W. and Lawrence R.M., The Miracle of MSM (G.B. Putnam?s
8. Deichman, W.B. and Gerarde, H.W.eds.,Toxicology of Drugs & Chemicals,
4th edition (Academic Press) 1969.
9. Phone interview with Jacob, S.W., Gerlinger Professor, Oregon Health
Sciences University, Portland, Oregon.
10. U.S. Patent 5,569,679 (October 29, 1996).
11. Bennett, J.C. and Plum, F. eds., Cecil Textbook of Medicine, 20th
edition (W.B. Saunders Co.) (1996).
12. Jacob, S.W. and Lawrence R.M., The Miracle of MSM (G.B. Putnam?s
13. McCabe, D., Eugene W., et al., Polar solvents in the chemoprevention
of dimethlenzanthracene-induced rat mammary cancer, Archives of Surgery,
14. O'Dwyer, P.J. et al., Use of polar solvents in chemoprevention of
1,2-dimethylhydrazine-induced colon cancer, Cancer, Vol. 62:944 (1988).
15. Moore, R.D., and Morton, J.I., Diminished inflammatory joint disease
in MRL/1pr mice ingesting dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) or
methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), Federation of American Societies for
Experimental Biology, 69th Annual
Meeting, Vol. 692, April 1985.