MSM to quell arthritis symptoms?

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MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) TO QUELL ARTHRITIS SYMPTOMS?

"MSM is my savior. I mean, I have no pain.... the only pain I have sometimes is in my head from, you know, thinking I'm so stupid not to have gone with something like this really early, because I couldn't walk.... [But MSM] took the pain away in 3 days."

So said actor James Coburn on Larry King Live about a supplement now touted to relieve the pain of arthritis. Indeed, a website we surfed to commented that "almost everyone in our modern society is deficient in MSM," which it called "a breakthrough for people with osteoarthritis." Yet another website talked about MSM's "results in curing arthritis," right across from directions to "Click Here To Buy Now...Our Price: $68.50."

Just what is MSM? Is there really anything to it?

MSM is the short name for methylsulfonylmethane, which is a compound that occurs naturally in both plants and animals. In fact, it's in most fresh foods, including fruits and vegetables; meat, fish, poultry, and eggs; and milk. It is also a by-product of the breakdown of DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide), a substance that comes from paint thinner and antifreeze and is often used by veterinarians to treat joint and tendon problems (particularly in horses).

We're not deficient in MSM, as some ads claim, but some people take it as an anti-inflammatory agent in hopes of alleviating arthritis symptoms. It's the inflammation of arthritic joints that contributes to so much of the discomfort of that disease. MSM has also been touted as a treatment for inflammation of the bladder wall, snoring, muscle spasm, as an anti-cancer agent, and as a skin softener and nail strengthener.

Unfortunately, the evidence of efficacy for MSM is, at the most, scant. Research on mice has suggested that it eases symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, as have some human studies. But the human studies were poorly designed. As for treatment of other ailments, proof of efficacy is negligible to non-existent. "There's just so little information on MSM that it's hard to say anything one way or another," says Ronenn Roubenoff, MD, a rheumatologist at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts. "All we know is that it's an unproven remedy."

There's not even agreement on a recommended dose. Recommendations have ranged from half a gram (500 milligrams) to 3 grams a day and have even gone as high as 8 grams a day.

Then, too, there have been reports of nausea, diarrhea, and headaches by MSM users. And it may have an aspirin-like effect and therefore should not be used by people taking blood-thinning medications such as Coumadin (warfarin) unless under the guidance of a physician.

Finally, there are issues of purity. ConsumerLab.com, a supplement industry watchdog, pointed out last year that an MSM product made by a group called Ultra Botanicals was recalled over health risks associated with bacterial contamination.

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