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MSM: The natural solution for arthritis pain

Author: Martin Zucker
Source: Better Nutrition, Sept., 1999. 

Learn how this substance, in supplement form, can help.

Arthritis sufferers are increasingly spelling relief from pain with three letters:

In case you haven’t heard, MSM is a naturally occurring sulfur compound found in small quantities in the body and in food. As a nutritional supplement, it is bringing relief to thousands of arthritis sufferers throughout the country.

Stanley W. Jacob, M.D., of the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland and co-author of The Miracle of MSM — The Natural Solution for Pain discovered years ago that the substance exerts potent anti-inflammatory and pain-stopping activity. He has used it for years to help many individuals suffering from various types of arthritis, including the common wear-and-tear degenerative type as well as the highly inflammatory rheumatoid arthritis.

MSM, short for methylsulfonylmethane, is derived from DMSO, the well-known therapeutic agent used worldwide for painful and inflammatory conditions. Unlike DMSO, which is associated with what some consider an unpleasant odor, MSM is odor-free.

“MSM can often provide significant relief, even for severe cases,” says Jacob. “People report less pain, less stiffness, and greater mobility.”

Five years ago, Jacob conducted a clinical experiment to compare MSM to NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories), medications routinely used for arthritis. In the study, 12 females with arthritis were randomly assigned to take a moderate dosage of 600 mg of Motrin (a popular NSAID) three times daily. Another 12 women were assigned to take 6 grams (6,000 mg) of MSM daily. After one month, the patients from both groups reported a similar degree of improvement in terms of reduced pain and inflammation. Among the Motrin group, three patients complained of moderate discomfort from hyperacidity. Such gastrointestinal complaints are common among NSAID users. No side effects were reported among the patients who took MSM.

Neurologist Ronald M. Lawrence, M.D., Ph.D,, of Malibu, Calif., who also co-authored the aforementioned book, tested the benefits of MSM in a somewhat different study among his patients. He randomly divided 16 patients into two groups. One group received MSM (2,250 mg dally) and the other an inert placebo pill, At the end of six weeks, an independent evaluator analyzed responses from patients and found that those who took MSM experienced substantial relief, with the exception of one individual.

“I find that many patients taking MSM notice improvement within three to four weeks,” says Lawrence, a pain specialist. “Some even report major relief within days.”

One such patient was James Coburn, the 1999 Oscar Award winner for best supporting actor. The veteran Hollywood star had suffered for more than 20 years with debilitating rheumatoid arthritis. Within a few days of starting MSM in early 1998, Coburn says his pain and stiffness began to rapidly diminish. Today, he has little discomfort and is pain free most of the time.

Lawrence says that MSM has enabled him to lower the dosage and sometimes, even eliminate the use of strong pharmaceutical painkillers. Research on MSM is limited, and experts such as Jacob and Lawrence admit that the precise details of the compound’s healing mechanisms need to be determined through scientific investigations. “What we know for sure, based on clinical experience, is that it provides major pain relief,” says Jacob.

FAQ’s about MSM

What is the best way to take MSM?
It is available as capsules. Take it with meals.

How much should you take?
Follow label instructions and increase very slowly to obtain desired relief. Effective doses vary from person to person.

Are there any side effects?
Most people have no problem. Some individuals, however, may experience minor gastrointestinal discomfort, increased stool frequency, or mild skin rash. In such cases, reduce the dosage.

Do you need to take MSM indefinitely?
Generally, when people discontinue MSM, symptoms often return slowly.

Martin Zucker is a professional health writer who’s been writing about alternative medicine for more than 20 years; he co-authored The Miracle of MSM (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1999) with Stanley W. Jacob, M.D., and Ronald M. Lawrence, M.D., Ph.D.