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MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane)

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Glucosamine and Chondroitin are popular compounds used to support joint health which you may be aware of, but there is a very effective third choice: MSM.  MSM is very similar to other dietary supplements used to support joint health. It is the most effective form of its parent supplement DMSO but is tolerated better. Like glucosamine (whose full scientific name is glucosamine sulfate) and chondroitin (chondroitin sulfate), MSM also contains sulfate.

What is MSM?

MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) is an oxidized form of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO).  DMSO is a sulfur compound naturally occurring in green vegetables, derived from lignan.  MSM is also known as dimethyl sulfone or DMSO2.  [1]

Sources of MSM

MSM can be found in Swiss chard, tomatoes (tomato fruit and tomato paste), corn, cabbage, beets, alfalfa, chicken (mostly in liver and muscle tissue), dairy produced from cows, tea, coffee, and beer.  [1]

Chemical Properties of MSM

DMSO and MSM are best described as sulfur donors.  Sulfur is found in cartilage and is one of the most abundant minerals found in the human body.  Most of the sulfur is absorbed through our diets from proteins.  Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are a source of sulfur themselves, but only 2 out of 20 amino acids contain sulfur.  The amino acid methionine can only be derived from diet, whereas other amino acids such as cysteine can be synthesized directly the human body through a supply of sulfur.  [2]

Inorganic sulfates (meaning not made inside the body) make up a small percentage of sulfur in our diets and can be found in garlic, broccoli, and onion.  Protein may have between 3-6% sulfur amino acids.  Methionine is the most effective facilitator for sulfur because dietary methionine can be converted into methionine sulfur and then to cysteine sulfur at a rate of 100% efficiency.  Methionine can then provide all the sulfur needed for the human body, except for the other two essential vitamins which contain sulfur, thiamin and biotin.  [2]

How does MSM work?

Sulfur amino acids provide sulfates for glycosaminoglycans (GAG) synthesis and glutathione (GSH) synthesis in cartilage.  Dietary sulfate is either oxidized to sulfate, reabsorbed or excreted, or stored in glutathione (GSH).  Sulfur is stored in the liver in GSH.  If there is not enough sulfur present in the body, the process of sulfur being directed to cartilage may be put on hold.  As people age, they are likely to have less protein in their diet and therefore less sulfur amino acids.  Taking dietary supplements which contain sulfur such as glucosamine, chondroitin, or MSM helps target the cartilage in joints and provides protection, reduces inflammation, and relieves pain.  [2]

Pain relief in this process is provided by GSH.  When there is a high level of GSH present, it inhibits prostaglandin production which is the main culprit of inflammation and degeneration.  Some prostaglandins and the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) used to treat inflammation interact with the same pathway of COX enzymes (cyclooxygenase) where GSH becomes involved and inhibits the prostaglandin production.  Some studies have found chondroitin sulfate to be equal to the relief provided by an NSAID.  [2]

In plants, the process that occurs and creates MSM as a byproduct of oxidation of DMSO (dimethylsulfoxide) takes place in the roots and leaves. MSM can be further processed into another metabolite, dimethylsulfide (DMS).  DMS, as an unstable and gaseous metabolite, is the source of MSM in plants because DMS is then converted into DMSO by radiation and photosynthesis.   The roots and leaves of plants can absorb DMSO.  [1]


  1. “Methylsulfonylmethane”. Examine.com, published Jul 19, 2013.  Last updated Oct 31, 2018. https://examine.com/supplements/methylsulfonylmethane/.
  2. Nimni, Marcel E et al. “Are we getting enough sulfur in our diet?.” Nutrition & metabolismvol. 4 24. 6 Nov. 2007, doi:10.1186/1743-7075-4-24
  3. “Methylsulfonylmethane.” Foods, Herbs, & Supplements. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=522.
  4. Marshall, Keri. “Interstitial Cystitis: Understanding the Syndrome.” Alternative Medicine Review, vol. 8, no. 4, 2003, chiro.org/alt_med_abstracts/FULL/Interstitial_Cystitis.pdf.
  5. Horvath, K., et al. “Toxicity of Methylsulfonylmethane in Rats.” Food Chem Toxicol., vol. 40, no. 10, Oct. 2002, pp. 1459–62., www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12387309.


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