What Does MSM Do for Your Body? (2024)

  • What Is
    • What is MSM?
  • How MSM Works
    • How does MSM work?
  • Benefits
    • MSM benefits
  • Side Effects
    • What are the side effects of MSM?
  • Sulfur-Rich Foods
    • Consider eating sulfur-rich foods instead
  • Talk to Your Doctor
    • Talk to your doctor
  • Comments
  • More

What is MSM?

What Does MSM Do for Your Body? (1)

MSM is a dietary supplement often promoted for healthy skin and joints. MSM is good for arthritis, inflammation, antioxidant power, and detoxification.

MSM is a dietary supplement often promoted for healthy skin and joints. Early studies suggest it might have some health benefits, but it’s not clear exactly how it works.

MSM is a sulfur compound that naturally occurs in your body and in plants, foods, and animals. MSM stands for methylsulfonylmethane but is sometimes also called other names, including:

  • Dimethyl sulfone
  • Sulfonylbismethane
  • Organic sulfur
  • Methyl sulfone
  • Crystalline dimethyl sulfoxide

MSM supplements are usually man-made, derived from another compound called dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), a byproduct of the pulp and paper industry. DMSO and MSM were first used in labs as a solvent, but as scientists experimented with using DMSO as a medicine, they also experimented with MSM. In 1981, Dr. Herschler patented MSM as a treatment to soften and smooth the skin and strengthen nails.

Today, DMSO and MSM are available as industrial solvents and as dietary sulfur supplements. You can get MSM in creams and in powder, pill, or capsule form with different doses. It’s often one of many ingredients in supplements for your joints and skin, hair, and nails.

How does MSM work?

Your body uses sulfur to make a protein called collagen and an amino sugar called glucosamine. Both compounds help build and maintain healthy bones and joints. Sulfur also helps make cells called immunoglobulins, which you need for a healthy immune system.

MSM naturally contains a type of sulfur called sulfate, so experts say it’s a sulfur donor, which means it converts to or adds more sulfur to your body. It’s not exactly clear how MSM works, though. Studies show you quickly absorb MSM throughout your body, though you get rid of most of it via your urine.

MSM benefits

People take MSM for lots of conditions. The research supporting its use is promising, but more and larger studies are necessary.

Might help arthritis pain

MSM is a common joint and arthritis supplement. Some studies show it can help ease joint and muscle pain.

One study divided patients with knee osteoarthritis into groups. They received MSM, glucosamine, both MSM and glucosamine, or a placebo pill. Those who received the MSM or MSM with glucosamine reported lower levels of pain, with the combination treatment showing the most improvement in patients. While both helped pain, glucosamine lowered swelling more than MSM.

Another trial study gave patients with knee osteoarthritis either MSM or a placebo pill for 12 weeks. About 25 percent of the MSM patients had lower pain and better movement and function in the knee. There was no change in joint stiffness.

One other study gave patients a large dose of 6,000 milligrams of MSM for osteoarthritis of the knee. It lowered pain and helped improve function with no side effects. Such studies suggest it might help, but more research is necessary.

Might lower inflammation

Researchers tested MSM on immune cells in lab dishes. MSM blocked the growth of cells that cause inflammation and blocked enzymes that make free radicals, unstable molecules that cause physical damage.

In another study, researchers tested the effects of MSM on inflammation after exercise. Some healthy men took MSM supplements for 28 days while others took a placebo supplement. At the end of the month, each group engaged in a round of intense exercises. Those who took the MSM had lower blood levels of inflammation markers right after exercise.

Might act as an antioxidant

Antioxidants are compounds that neutralize unstable molecules called free radicals. Your body makes these as part of normal activities, but too many free radicals can damage your cells. Your body normally makes antioxidants, like glutathione, to take care of this problem, and you can get some from the food you eat, too.

MSM might also act as an antioxidant and help block proteins and enzymes that make free radicals.

Might help detoxification

Your body binds sulfur to some compounds and drugs, which makes them water-soluble and easy to get rid of in your urine or other methods. This process is called sulfation and is important for some medications like acetaminophen. Studies show MSM might add to this process and help detoxify acetaminophen, which could be helpful in cases of poisoning.

Exposure to toxins or poisons can also drain your body of important antioxidants that help in detoxification, like glutathione. Studies show MSM can lower the amount of glutathione depletion from toxins.

What are the side effects of MSM?

MSM is likely safe to take by mouth for up to 6 months. There isn’t enough information to know if MSM is safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding, though, so you should avoid it at these times.

MSM can also cause some side effects.

Digestive problems

The most common side effects of MSM supplements are digestive problems, including nausea, vomiting, bloating, diarrhea, and stomach pain.

Allergic reaction

MSM supplements can cause allergic reactions. Symptoms include hives, itchiness, skin rash, and lip, face, or eye swelling. If you have symptoms of an allergic reaction, stop taking MSM supplements and talk to your doctor.

Interfere with medication

Dietary supplements can interact with your medication. While MSM is likely safe to take, talk to your doctor first. MSM might interact with your drug detoxification pathways, which could affect your medications. It might also interact with blood thinners, which could increase your risk of bleeding.

Consider eating sulfur-rich foods instead

MSM and dietary supplements are popular remedies, but there isn’t a lot of good research yet to strongly recommend MSM. In most cases, it’s best to get the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals you need from food.

If you want to get more sulfur, you can add sulfur-rich foods to your diet, including:

  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Meat
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Kale
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Asparagus

Talk to your doctor

Overall, MSM is probably safe to take, but it might be unnecessary. Your body gets rid of most of the toxins you intake, and you might not need high doses of sulfur.

There is no recommended daily allowance for sulfur, and a lack of sulfur doesn’t cause a known condition. Plus, MSM supplements can be expensive and can cause unwanted side effects.

If you’re thinking about taking MSM or other supplements, talk to your doctor and pharmacist first.

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Medically Reviewed on 9/8/2022



Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry: "Identification of sulfation sites of metabolites and prediction of the compounds' biological effects."

Arthritis Foundation: "Supplement and Herb Guide for Arthritis Symptoms."

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Antioxidants."

Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "MSM enhances LPS-induced inflammatory response after exercise."

Mount Sinai: "Sulfur."

National Capital Poison Center: "Methylsulfonylmethane: A Safe Treatment for Arthritis Pain?"

National Library of Medicine MedlinePlus: "Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)."

Nutrients: "Methylsulfonylmethane: Applications and Safety of a Novel Dietary Supplement." Nutrients: "Small Intestinal Absorption of Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) and Accumulation of the Sulfur Moiety in Selected Tissues of Mice."

Versus Arthritis: "MSM."

What Does MSM Do for Your Body? (2024)
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