Methylsulfonylmethane: a Safe Treatment for Arthritis Pain?

The Bottom Line

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a naturally occurring compound found in several food sources. In the US, it is also sold as a dietary supplement claiming to improve symptoms of osteoarthritis stiffness, swelling, and pain. If you are considering using MSM, always speak with your physician first and purchase products through trusted and reliable sources.

The Full Story

Methylsulfonylmethane (also known as MSM, DMSO2, methyl sulfone, and dimethyl sulfone) is a naturally occurring organosulfur compound that can be found in several plants, grains, fruits, and vegetables. In the 1970s, two chemists, Drs. Robert Herschler and Stanley Jacob, experimented extensively with the compound looking for possible clinical and therapeutic uses. In the early 1980s Dr. Hershler patented the compound for many things including skin softening, nail strengthening, and stress relief.

MSM's mechanism of action is unclear, but it is thought to have influence on some processes that involve inflammation and oxidative stress at the subcellular level. There are several published animal and human studies that have investigated its potential for a variety of ailments and conditions. Some studies included testing for improved skin quality, seasonal allergies, range of motion and physical function, arthritis, and inflammation. Results from these studies have been variable, but there seems to be some evidence to support possible benefits in improving symptoms of osteoarthritis such as stiffness, swelling, and pain.

Although we can obtain it naturally from eating certain foods, the compound is also synthetically produced. In the US, MSM is sold as a dietary supplement usually in the form of capsules or powders. It is frequently sold in combination with other supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin. A common suggested dose for arthritis and other joint conditions for adults is 2–6 grams/day in 2 or 3 divided doses. In general, MSM seems to be safe and well-tolerated. Some common side effects include bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and indigestion. It is important to keep in mind that as a dietary supplement, MSM is not regulated for safety and effectiveness by the US Food and Drug Administration. If you are considering using MSM, always speak with your physician first and purchase products through trusted and reliable sources.

If you suspect an adverse reaction to MSM, are concerned about an unintentional overdose, or have a child who might have swallowed some MSM, immediately check with the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool or call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 for guidance.

Kristina Yee, PharmD
Certified Specialist in Poison Information


For More Information

Bauer BA. MSM for arthritis pain: is it safe? Rochester (MN): Mayo Clinic; [cited 2020 Dec 1]. 


References

Methylsulfonylmethane. In: POISINDEX System [Internet database]. Greenwood Village (CO): IBM Watson Health; c2020. [cited 2020 Nov 29].

Butawan M, Benjamin RL, Bloomer RJ. Methylsulfonylmethane: applications and safety of a novel dietary supplement. Nutrients. 2017 Mar 16;9(3);290.

Kim LS, Axelrod LJ, Howard P, Buratovich N, Waters JF. Efficacy of methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) in osteoarthritis pain of the knee: a pilot clinical trial. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2006 Mar 1;14(3):286–94.

Poisoned?

Call 1-800-222-1222 or

HELP ME online

Prevention Tips

  • Before taking MSM, always speak with your physician to be sure it is safe and appropriate for you.
  • Always tell your physician and pharmacist about any supplements you are taking, just as you do with your prescription and over-the-counter medications.
  • Keep the MSM containers out of reach and sight of children and pets.
  • Use only USP-Verified supplements.

This Really Happened

A mother called Poison Control because her 2-year-old daughter was found with an open container of MSM dietary supplement powder. The child had some powder on her lips, hands, and cheek but was otherwise asymptomatic. Poison Control advised the mother that a small amount of MSM was unlikely to cause any significant side effects other than possible stomach upset. She was instructed to watch for the development of any vomiting or other symptoms and to call back with any concerns. Poison Control called back 4 hours later, and the child did not have any symptoms.