This week I’m going to have a closer look at MSM. It’s one of these supplements where even the label doesn’t say much. You either know what it does and you want to buy it, or you remove it from your memory after a split second. Now, should you? Let’s have a look.
The only statement that I could find on the label of this product is:
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a naturally occurring source of sulphur, one of the major building blocks of glycosaminoglycans.
Is this helpful? If we know what glycosaminoglycans are and what they do, then it’s great. Otherwise it’s not very informative. I’d say it could do with some additional information about potential uses.
MSM means sulphur
Let’s make it clear: Methylsulfonylmethane is a bio-available source of sulphur, which is one of the essential minerals. It is 34% sulphur by weight. All claimed benefits of MSM are then related to sulphur and ways how MSM affects different chemical pathways in the body. Sulphur builds joints, cartilage, skin, nails and hair, and it could be involved in more than 150 different biochemical pathways.
It occurs naturally in some plants, animals, and in humans. The dietary sources include cruciferous vegetables, onions, garlic, nuts, seeds, milk and eggs, but, but, but – in case I forget – MSM can be lost during conventional food processing e.g. frying, dehydrating, and pasteurizing. Thus claims that the MSM supplementation is important in order to fill that gap in human nutrition.
How MSM affects a human metabolism is still a bit of a mystery and subject to research, so as we get more information this section will need to get updated.
Who’s the father?
MSM had two fathers. First, Robert Herschler, a biochemist who patented MSM in 1982. He claimed that the product could be useful in inflammation, allergies, and gastrointestinal conditions. Second, Stanley W. Jacob. I think he deserves this title too, as he reported use of MSM in over 18,000 patients treating a variety of ailments. He promoted MSM as a natural source of ‘biologicaly active sulphur’.
Wrinkly skin, achy joints
Sulphur is integral to production of collagen and elastin. Half of your body’s sulphur content is found in skin, muscles, bones, and cartilages. Collagen holds the skin together. As we get older collagen production decreases. MSM could then help to improve skin condition, but there are some other and probably more important benefits too – read on!
How much is too much?
Get ready for some fancy terminology. Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) or Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for MSM doesn’t exist. It is safe to use, as the LD50 (a dose at which 50% of test subjects are killed) is higher than 17.5 grams per kilogram of body weight.
That means that you have a 50-50 chance of survival if your weight is 80kg and you consumed 1.4kg of MSM (you would need to take 1400 pills, 1 gram each to reach that level).
Potential side effects from overdosing include intestinal discomfort, swelling of the ankles, and mild skin rashes. If you experience any of these side effects start with a lower dose like 500 milligrams and work your way up to a desired dose.
MSM nutritional information
As you can imagine this section will be quite short. Each caplet (a coated oral medicinal tablet) contains 750mg of Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). Holland & Barrett recommends one to four caplets daily, preferably with meals. I’m not surprised, it has a pretty bad aftertaste.
I’m not sure why we have a ‘Do not exceed stated dose’ mentioned, as there is no Recommended Dietary Allowance for this product. A clinical research is done with MSM doses in a range of 1.5 to 6 grams per day. Four caplets at 750mg would bring us to 3 grams per day, which just in the middle of that range, so you could try a higher dose if you want to.
Just a note here: when used in fortified foods and beverages, you will usually get grams of MSM. Diet rich in MSM would deliver much lower quantities, most likely in the milligrams per day range.
Let’s have a look at ingredients. There aren’t many this time. If you want us to write a full article on any of these ingredients please comment and we will get busy with it. Today I’m going to talk more about ingredient categories, as highlighted in red below.
All ingredients listed in order of weight:
- Methylsulphonylmethane (MSM) Powder
- Bulking Agent
- Microrystalline cellulose
- Anti-Caking Agents
- Magnesium Stearate
- Silicon Dioxide
- Glazing Agents
- Hydroxypropyl Methylcellulose
- Carnauba Wax
No Artificial Colours, Flavours or Preservatives. No added Sugar, Sweetener or Salt. No Corn. No Porcine. No Yeast.
As the name says, these products increase bulk of food without affecting its taste or adding calories. That means that tablets get some volume to them, otherwise they would be tiny. They also make the unpleasant tasting tablets easier to swallow. Microcrystalline cellulose, as in MSM supplement, is a common bulking agent used in vitamin supplements or tablets.
These ingredients are added to powdered or granulated materials in order to prevent formation of lumps, also know as caking. They absorb excess moisture, or coat particles making them water repellent. They are often used to make packaging and manufacturing process easier. Magnesium Stearate is a very common agent used in majority of food supplements.
Provide protection in a form of a waxy, homogenous coating to prevent water loss from a surface. Substances in this category are classified as a wax. They impart a shiny and polished coating to tablets and foods.
Red Planet Nutrition (RPN) Score
At Red Planet Nutrition we focus on three core elements: weight loss/maintenance, inflammation reduction, and fatigue /energy levels. All products receive a score 1-10 (1 – bad, 5 – neutral, 10 – good) to see how well they perform in these categories.
On top of that we check how well they would do if taken on a cruise to Mars. We assume a max recommended dose (if stated) of a product to be consumed. Read this as: if I eat this product, will it make me feel better and keep my weight in a healthy range?
It needs to be ‘5’ as MSM is neutral in this category. It’s a pill with no calories and the bulking agent is microcrystalline cellulose, which will not be digested. At the same time MSM is not supposed to have any weight loss benefits.
I will give MSM ‘7’ here as there are some reports that MSM may reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. It’s supposed to protect muscles from damage by reducing the amount of oxidative stress damage caused by exercise.
As it reduces stress markers’ levels post-exercise, MSM may have some positive impact on overall fatigue levels too. I’m going to take it for a month and report back.
It’s a ‘9’ for MSM in the RPN scoring system. This is where most reports highlight MSM’s usefulness and it makes sense. MSM has a high sulphur content and plays an important role in healthy bones and joints. It is also crucial for glutathione formation.
According to Arthritis Research UK evidence from short-term Randomised Clinical Trials (RCTs) shows that MSM has a moderate effect in improving joint pain and swelling in people with osteoarthritis. Arthritis Research UK gave it a score of 2 out of 5 for arthritis treatment effectiveness.
Vitamins work better when taken together as a multivitamin complex. This seems to be the case here too. Try to take MSM with other supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin. All in a single tablet if possible, so that you get the ratios right.
Try it. If you deal with chronic inflammatory conditions, aches, hurting joints, or toxicity I think it’s worth a shot. It helps some people according to various product reviews online!
If I were going to Mars, I’d love to have MSM with me on board, so a ’10’ here. MSM is involved in production of glutathione, sometimes called a ‘master antioxidant’. Glutathione, one of the most important antioxidants produced by the body is used in detoxification processes. It is essential for removing heavy metals and toxins from your body.
In animals MSM was shown to have a protective effect against several toxins like carbon tetrachloride, paraquat, and acetaminophen. This would make MSM very beneficial in terms of body detoxification far away from Planet Earth.
In addition, MSM applied topically could promote delivery of other active ingredients by increasing cell membrane permeability. This is thanks to the fact that MSM is a metabolite of DMSO, a compound used in cryopreservation.
What about glycosaminoglycans?
I got to this point and I realised I didn’t mention word ‘glycosaminoglycans’ even once. And that’s the only benefit mentioned on the label. Long story short, I think Holland & Barrett are going after the joint health properties of MSM here. Glycosaminoglycans, also known as GAGs, are complex sugars, which attract water, and they are used by the body as a lubricant or as a shock absorber.
They maintain and support collagen and elastin, helping them to retain moisture. Some examples of GAGs include heparin (an anticoagulant), a hyaluronic acid (lubricant in body joints), and chondroitins (found in connective tissue, cartilage, and tendons).
Have you tried MSM before? Do you have any comments or questions? I was writing this blog post with U2 playing in the background. Press Play for a full blog reading experience and leave a comment!
Dr Bart Baranowski
- Anti-caking agent info:
- Microcrystalline cellulose info:
- Glazing agent info: