MSM Alleviates Arthritis Pain
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), a naturally occurring sulfur-containing compound, may help decrease joint pain and improve physical functioning in people with osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee, reports Osteoarthritis and Cartilage (2005 Nov 22 [E-pub ahead of print]).
OA is a chronic, degenerative disease of the cartilage that lines and cushions the joints. It is more common in people over age 45. Although any joint may be affected, OA most frequently develops in the hips, knees, spine, and feet. When OA affects the knee joint, the progressive loss of cartilage can be seen on an x-ray as a narrowed space between the bones that surround the joint. Bits of damaged cartilage may also break off and enter the joint space, limiting motion and causing considerable pain. Risk factors for OA development include having a family history of the disease, being overweight, and overusing or having a previous injury of a joint.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil) may be used to decrease the pain associated with OA. Sometimes corticosteroid injections are given directly into the joint to decrease swelling. Unfortunately, these treatments do not slow the disease progression. In addition, corticosteroid injections may cause more thinning of the cartilage and damage the tendons surrounding the joint, and long-term use of NSAIDs increases the chance of developing gastric ulcers. For these reasons, safer alternatives to these medications are being sought.
MSM is a popular remedy for OA pain that is often found in supplements also containing glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate. A recent study found that glucosamine and chondroitin alleviate OA pain at least as well as the prescription medication Celebrex. Previous trials suggest that MSM may decrease inflammation and help repair connective tissue (such as cartilage), but there is little research on its usefulness for treating OA.
In the new study, 40 men and women between ages 40 and 76 with OA of the knee were given either 6 grams of MSM per day for 12 weeks or a placebo. The people rated their level of pain, stiffness, physical functioning (ability to get around and perform daily activities), and overall symptoms before the study and after 2, 4, 8, and 12 weeks. The people and their physicians also gave their overall impression of the state of their arthritis before and after the study and also rated their response to treatment. Blood and urine tests were performed to assess the safety of MSM and to investigate the possible ways it works in the body.
The level of pain decreased significantly and physical functioning improved after 12 weeks in the MSM group compared with the placebo group. Changes in stiffness and overall symptoms were similar in the two groups, and there were no differences between the groups in overall response to treatment.
MSM did not appear to raise blood pressure, nor did it adversely affect cholesterol levels, blood clotting, or measures of kidney, nervous-system, liver, or blood-cell health. Side effects were generally mild and were similar between the two groups.
The results of this investigation suggest that MSM may be a useful adjunct in the treatment of OA.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.
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