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Methylsulfonylmethane, or MSM, is a naturally occurring compound in foods such as fresh vegetables, meat, and dairy products. MSM provides a source of natural sulfur, which plays a role in many of the body's processes. People may consume MSM via supplements.

Typically, MSM supplements contain a synthetic form of MSM. The primary uses for MSM supplements include:

  • arthritis
  • joint pain
  • muscle recovery after exercise
  • allergy relief

Many of MSM's benefits have links to its anti-inflammatory action. Inflammation is a factor in many health conditions, including arthritis, allergies, and skin conditions. By reducing inflammation, MSM may be able to reduce or eliminate certain symptoms.

Some small scientific studies indicate that MSM could be useful for treating several different medical conditions. The following are some of the best-documented uses for MSM in medical studies.

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Studies suggest that MSM supplements may help treat osteoarthritis and joint pain.

Osteoarthritis, which affects around 27 million people in the United States, is a deterioration of cartilage in one or more of the joints. It commonly affects the knees, hips, lower back, hands, and fingers. It can cause pain, stiffness, and swelling.

Various studies suggest that taking MSM supplements could help with symptoms of arthritis or relieve joint pain.

A study of 100 adults who were over 50 years of age took either an MSM supplement or placebo. The MSM supplement also had vitamin C, collagen, and neem and corydalis extracts. The results show people who took the MSM supplement for 12 weeks were experiencing improvements in joint pain, stiffness, and swelling.

Another double-blind study featured 100 adult participants who had hip or knee osteoarthritis. They took MSM supplements and reported improvement in their arthritis symptoms and better performance in daily activities than those who took a placebo. The MSM dosage was 6 grams (g) per day for 26 weeks.

While it is popular as a natural arthritis treatment, MSM may not work for everyone. The Arthritis Foundation state that there are currently no large, well-controlled studies on MSM.

A 2018 meta-analysis found that MSM may improve osteoarthritis symptoms in the short term, but its importance clinically was not clear.

Regular exercise is necessary for good health. However, the energy demands of exercise can cause oxidative stress to muscles and tissues. This may result in temporary soreness and discomfort after a workout.

MSM supplements may help improve post-workout pain and tissue stress. Some small studies suggest that it could be helpful for this, including:

  • A study of 16 untrained healthy men, which suggests that taking an MSM supplement helps reduce biomarkers of oxidative stress after exercise. It also increased the amount of antioxidant in their bodies.
  • A study on 22 adults from a half marathon list, which shows that those who took MSM had less muscle and joint pain after running the half-marathon than those receiving a placebo. The dosage of MSM was 3 g that participants took for 21 days before the race and 2 days after.
  • A study on 24 exercise-trained men, which found that those who took 3 g of MSM daily for 14 days had less pain and discomfort after exercise than those taking a placebo.

It is important to note that all of these studies were small, and did not look at a large group of participants.

Nasal allergies, or allergic rhinitis, is an immune system response to something ordinarily harmless. Nasal allergies can cause sneezing, itching, watery eyes, and coughing when a person has exposure to an allergen, such as pollen, dust, animal dander, or mold.

In a double-blind study, people who took a daily dose of 3 g of MSM had reductions of more than 50 percent in their allergy symptoms.

Stomach ulcers, also known as gastric ulcers, are sores that occur in the stomach lining. They can cause symptoms including burning pain in the stomach, bleeding, vomiting, and weight loss.

A study in mice found that supplementing with MSM could help prevent gastric ulcers. The mice receiving the MSM had some protection of the mucus layer in the stomach, which becomes damaged by peptic ulcers.

The authors believe that MSM has anti-inflammatory properties that may help stop oxidative stress on the stomach's tissues.

People may also use MSM topically, meaning by applying it to the skin. Some people believe that the anti-inflammatory power of MSM can help specific skin conditions when applied as a cream.

An older 2008 double-blind study of 46 people with rosacea found that they experienced improvement in their symptoms after using an MSM cream. The cream also contained silymarin, or milk thistle. However, no larger or more recent studies have compounded these findings.

Despite its lack of medical studies, MSM is a natural source of sulfur, which could be beneficial to the skin. Dermatologists have long prescribed sulfur creams and washes to treat skin conditions, including rosacea and acne. Topical sulfur has natural antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

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MSM is also available in powder form.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) say MSM is "Generally Recognized as Safe," or GRAS, in standard dosages. Many studies on MSM use dosages of about 3 g per day.

MSM supplements are available in capsule or powder form, and people can purchase them online.

Taking more MSM than directed does not appear to provide better results. In the allergy study this article referenced previously, people taking 12 g of MSM had less allergy relief than those taking 3 g.

People may also apply a cream that contains MSM to the skin. They should look for a product that specifies how much MSM it contains and how often to apply it.

People who are already using prescription creams for rosacea or other skin conditions should ask their dermatologist before trying MSM cream.

Taking excessive amounts of MSM could have unwanted and potentially dangerous effects. A study on rats found that those animals receiving typical human dosages did see an improvement in the health of knee cartilage.

However, when the researchers gave the rats 100 times the standard human dose, they experienced shrinkage of several organs, including the liver and spleen.

The Arthritis Foundation advise people taking blood thinners to avoid MSM. They also report that MSM could cause an upset stomach or diarrhea.

Most people can take the usual range of 3 g per day of capsules, powder, or cream without serious side effects. People should talk with a doctor before taking the supplement long-term, however. One study suggests that MSM levels in the body may build up over time.

Some small studies show that MSM may be useful for treating several different medical conditions. It is typically safe when people take it at normal dosages of around 3 g per day.

MSM may be worth trying for those who are looking for a natural alternative for arthritis pain, post-exercise soreness, seasonal allergies, or rosacea.

Pregnant or breastfeeding women, children, and people who have health conditions should talk to a doctor before taking MSM. It may not be safe or recommended for these people.