Find out all about MSM including what it does, the benefits and risks, and how much you might need.
It’s hardly a household name, but among some health enthusiasts, MSM has a glowing reputation.
MSM benefits are said to include powerful anti-inflammatory properties, and it’s thought to be capable of helping everything from arthritis to allergies.
But what is MSM? What does it do? And how can you incorporate these MSM health benefits into your life?
What is MSM?
MSM is a natural compound that contains the mineral sulphur. It’s found in small quantities in fresh fruit and vegetables, tea, coffee, meat and dairy foods, cereals and grains. 1
MSM is also believed to help calm inflammatory conditions such as allergic rhinitis; hay fever is a type of allergic rhinitis. 2
While organic MSM is found in fresh, raw foods, MSM – the compound used in supplements – is a highly concentrated white, crystalline powder and contains 34% sulphur. 3
What does MSM stand for?
Methlysulfonylmethane (MSM) is a mouthful.
You may see it on ingredients lists on food, supplements and skincare products. Sometimes MSM is included under other chemical names, including dimethyl sulfone, methyl sulfone, sulfonylbismethane, organic sulphur, or crystalline dimethyl sulfoxide.4
- MSM is a sulphur-containing natural mineral compound
- MSM is used to help inflammatory conditions, such as joint pains, arthritis, and allergic rhinitis (hay fever)
- Some people use MSM for post-exercise recovery to help muscles recover
- MSM is found in small amounts in foods like fresh fruit and vegetables, tea, coffee, meat and dairy foods, cereals and grains – the highly concentrated version comes as a powder which is 34% sulphur
Benefits of MSM
What does MSM do in the body?
MSM is rapidly absorbed by the body, where it’s said to have a number of effects, such as:
It eases arthritis symptoms
MSM specifically inhibits the activity of a chemical called NF-kB, which plays a key role in regulating the immune response to infection and is linked to inflammatory disease.
MSM also suppresses the production of other inflammatory chemicals in the body.5
This may explain why it’s a popular arthritis remedy; a 2004 study of 118 people with osteoarthritis found those taking MSM, glucosamine, or a combination of both, showed a significant improvement in pain and joint swelling compared with those taking a placebo.6
In some studies, MSM has demonstrated its capabilities at protecting cartilage from degeneration, which is the driving force of osteoarthritis.7
MSM’s protective qualities are possibly down to its high sulphur content.
Sulphur is one of the major building blocks of glycosaminoglycans – key structural components in cartilage.8
It can help tackle allergies
MSM may also have a role to play in suppressing the overactivity of inflammatory compounds that can trigger allergic reactions.9
A trial published in JMIR Research Protocols in 2018 reported that a daily dose of 3g of MSM could reduce the main symptoms of allergic rhinitis, including a stuffy, runny nose, by more than 50% in just two weeks.10
It can support post-exercise recovery
Pre-treatment with MSM has shown to reduce muscle soreness following strenuous resistance and endurance exercise.11
A 2013 study of 16 unfit men revealed that taking MSM could reduce the signs of oxidative stress on their bodies after exercise, helping to protect against damage caused by free radicals.12
Meanwhile, a 2015 study of 22 runners found that taking 3g of MSM for three weeks before a half marathon and two days afterwards, reduced post-race muscle and joint pain.13
It soothes problem skin
Thanks to its anti-inflammatory action, MSM could be an effective skin-care product.
Italian researchers discovered that a cream containing a combination of MSM and milk thistle applied to the skin could reduce symptoms of rosacea.14
This may be because MSM is source of sulphur, and sulphur has antibacterial properties that have been shown to tackle mild acne.15
It helps promote mouth health
‘Swishing’ or rinsing the mouth with a solution containing MSM powder is thought to help protect the mouth from periodontal diseases, and even aid with tooth remineralisation.16
It holds anti-ageing effects
Applying MSM topically to the skin to reduce visible signs of ageing has shown some promise in early studies.
A fortnightly peeling session incorporating MSM helped reduced pigmentation of melisma, skin elasticity, and the degree of wrinkling in people affected by sun damage and other age-related skin markers.17,18
However, this study also involved the application of Pyruvic acid, a potent chemical peeling agent, which the positive outcomes of the study could be attributed to.
Having said that, in the skincare world there is increasing anecdotal evidence that applying MSM can leave skin feeling softer and smoother.
Another study concluded that taking an oral MSM supplement helped reduce fine lines and wrinkles over 16 weeks.19
It may help inflammatory bladder conditions
It’s thought that MSM might be useful in tackling the symptoms of interstitial cystitis – a chronic inflammatory condition of the bladder – thanks to the sulphur it contains.20
Research is lacking, although case studies and anecdotal evidence show some improved symptoms when taken orally.21,22
It may help maintain a strong immune response
Our immune system is under near-constant attack from pathogens, including bacteria and viruses.
Sulphur containing compounds including MSM are thought to play a critical role in supporting the immune response.
There are currently no studies which examine the effect of MSM on immunity, but components of sulphur amino acids (which MSM contains) have shown to have a positive effect on immune function.23
- MSM has shown in studies to help relieve some of the symptoms of arthritis and joint pain
- MSM has shown to be able to relieve allergic rhinitis (hay fever), as well as inflammatory skin conditions like rosacea
- Some research points to MSM helping to relieve inflammatory bladder conditions and helping to strengthen the immune response
- MSM is thought to be good for reducing the visible signs of ageing
How much MSM is safe to take?
Most people can tolerate doses of MSM up to 4000mg (4g), but consult a health professional before starting to take MSM.24
If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s especially important to seek medical advice before.
Research shows that taking more MSM will not give you better results, so higher doses are not necessary.25
There’s some anecdotal evidence that MSM can increase sensitivity to alcohol, but this has not been clinically studied.26
The theory here is that other sulphur-containing molecules, such as disulfiram, are used to combat alcoholism by causing adverse reactions when consuming alcohol.
MSM may have a blood-thinning effect, so it should be avoided if you’re taking blood-thinning medication such as warfarin.27
The main side-effect people report while taking MSM are digestive issues. This can include flatulence and diarrhoea.
These symptoms should go away after a few days as your body adjusts to the MSM.28
How to take MSM powder
MSM powder dissolves in water and can be added to water, fruit juice, smoothies, protein shakes and other cold beverages.
When to take MSM
Take MSM capsules with food, as it might be irritating on an empty stomach.
How long does it take MSM to work?
There is no exact amount of time during which you’re guaranteed to see results from taking MSM supplements. The amount of time it might take to work also depends on the reason you’re using MSM and the results you hope to achieve.
For example, applying it topically to the skin might yield more rapid results than taking it orally.
In some clinical trials, a marked benefit to symptoms such as painful joints and reduced physical function was seen after 12 weeks of using MSM. 33
- You can take MSM in powder, cream or tablet form. MSM powder can be dissolved in shakes, smoothies and fruit juices.
- MSM is often included along with other joint-supporting compounds like glucosamine, chondroitin, vitamin C and hyaluronic acid.
- MSM has shown to be effective after 12 weeks in some studies, although the length of time you should take MSM for to see results varies depending on why you’re taking it.
Last updated: 12 August 2021