Sulfur Power

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BILL RICH, A RETIRED MECHANIC IN Portland, Ore., flashes back to 1970 when he tells the horrifying story of being trapped inside a burning car. "The doctors spent six months trying to put me back together," he says. But left with a patchwork of keloid scars from the burns and skin grafts, Rich admits, "I made Frankenstein look handsome."

For years, he suffered excruciating pain. Just walking from the repair bay to the parts department made him almost collapse from pain in his knees and ankles. In the early 1980s, a veterinarian friend suggested he try a supplement routinely used in animals that's made from a form of sulfur known as methylsulfonyl-methane, dimethyl sulfone, or simply MSM.

"In three days, most of my leg pain was gone," Rich says. He developed an MSM-containing cream, which he regularly rubbed on his skin. Incredibly, his scarring -- years old -- started to vanish, replaced by round, pink skin.

Sulfur Science

Bill Rich's story may seem too incredible to be true, but MSM is a by-product of dimethyl sulfoxide, or DMSO, heralded 20 years ago as an alternative "wonder drug" that still enjoys popularity. A powerful pain reliever and anti-inflammatory, DMSO also rapidly transports nutrients and drugs through the skin and into the bloodstream. It's been used to ease the pain and inflammation of arthritis and other muscle and skeletal disorders and offers only one negative side effect -- a strong sulfur smell and taste, even when just applied to the skin.

The Foods You Need

Fifteen percent of DMSO is converted to MSM in the body. Unlike DMSO, you take in MSM in many of the foods you eat, and it is normally present in the bodies of people and animals. Unpasteurized milk is a rich dietary source, and small amounts are found in fruits, vegetables and grains, although refining and processing remove MSM in much the same way that they. remove other valuable nutrients.

Researcher Stanley W. Jacob, MD, of Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, believes that MSM, 34 percent sulfur by weight, works largely by supplying the sulfur that's essential for many of the body's processes. "I think that the whole DMSO complex -- DMSO, dimethyl sulfide, MSM -- provides a good portion of the body's need for sulfur," says Jacob. And that's no small accomplishment, since sulfur is a component of important amino acids, vitamins, hormones, coenzymes and antioxidants. Your body needs it to build the disulfide bonds that hold together the body's tissues. You need it for healthy skin, joints, hair and nails. Ironically, sulfur is not officially regarded as essential by the U.S. Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It has also been one of the least researched nutritional minerals.

"Nobody writes about sulfur," says Alexander Schauss, PhD, director of the American Institute for Biosocial Research in Tacoma, Wash. "It's taken for granted and neglected." He adds that, as with any mineral, a shortage can interfere with normal body processes.

What MSM Can Do for You

Much of what we know about MSM comes from Jacob's experience in using it to treat a wide range of conditions as well as from animal experiments by other researchers. Jacob says that DMSO and MSM have very similar effects. DMSO is the more potent pain reliever and an antioxidant. "But MSM is a pain reliever, and it reduces inflammation clinically," he adds. One of its biggest advantages is that it doesn't possess or create a pungent sulfur odor. That, Jacob adds, increases its "social acceptability." How does he decide which to use in treating patients? In his university clinic, he often gives patients a little DMSO with MSM. A wide range of conditions have been helped by MSM. Here's what recent research shows it may do.

Provide fast pain relief, MSM (taken orally) can relieve pain and inflammation in muscles and joints. Many of the components of joints are made from collagen and glucosamine, both of which are sulfur dependent. One researcher describes an 81-year-old arthritic woman who found no relief with conventional drug therapy. After two weeks of taking MSM, she had "almost total" pain relief.

In an animal study on rheumatoid arthritis-like joint degeneration, DMSO and MSM worked equally to reduce joint inflammation, but MSM helped in a more amazing way -- it completely prevented the breakdown of cartilage. Jacob says it can help treat musculoskeletal pain and inflammation, including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, tendonitis and gout.

Relieve a mysterious ailment. Doctors don't know what causes interstitial cystitis, a painful and debilitating bladder inflammation. Stacy J. Childs, MD, of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, recently described six patients who benefited from MSM in Urological Clinics of North America.

Ease painful symptoms. Scleroderma is a chronic disease that scars the skin, joints and internal organs. Jacob, who served as medical director for the Scleroderma International Foundation for over 25 years, says that MSM and DMSO can ease symptoms and normalize collagen formation.

Stop the sneeze. MSM may reduce symptoms of pollen allergies. Jacob doesn't understand why, but he suspects that MSM blocks cell receptor sites for histamine, which triggers allergic symptoms. It's best taken in the evening, at a dose of a couple of grams a day, maybe more when the pollen count is high.

Offer an array of potential benefits. Although research is limited, MSM may reduce excess stomach acid and hypersensitivity to some drugs, such as aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. MSM has been shown helpful, clinically, in lupus erythematosus and may be beneficial in other autoimmune (self-allergic) disorders. In the laboratory, it retards the growth of vascular smooth-muscle tissue, associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease. Animal studies have also found that it slows the growth of breast and colon cancers.

Pick the Right Dose

MSM is useful and as safe as water, says Jacob. The dosage varies widely, but Jacob recommends one or two grams daily and suggests that any higher doses be discussed with your health-care provider.

Natural Way Publications, Inc.

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By Jack Challem

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