Skin Health Matters -

MSM For Relief of Joint Discomfort

Joint Cream With MSM Was Made A National Sensation By Daily Mail

In the mid 1990’s Katie May of Yin Yang Skincare produced her first run of skin cream containing MSM.  Katie had learned that MSM was accumulating a reputation for benefitting the skin because of its high sulphur content – around 34%. But a surprising thing happened: users of the cream with symptoms of osteo-arthritis began to report a reduction in joint discomfort and improved joint mobility after having applied the product to skin around the joints. Most surprising of all was the case of female friend of Katie’s who suffered arthritis in her fingers: after using the cream to treat joint discomfort in her horse, Karolina Bostrom found the pain & stiffness in her fingers easing. When this story was reported in the Daily Mail by Dr John Briffa [17th January, 2000], Katie’s Joint Cream with MSM became a national sensation, and over time a body of anecdotal evidence has accumulated, suggesting the usefulness of this cream. 

MSM Is A Novel Substance

Yin Yang still supplies the cream today to a base of devoted users. It is not possible to make claims for the product’s action because this would require evidence from controlled double blind wide scale clinical trials. Moreover MSM is viewed as a novel substance, having no supporting base of scientific & medical evidence for toxicity, safety and efficacy. MSM is widely available throughout the World as a dietary supplement and in topical preparations and the health administrations of NZ & Australia [TGA & Medsafe, April 2006] have investigated the substance without drawing negative conclusions, but they cautioned that “consideration needs to be given if the relatively short history of the apparently widespread and safe use of the substance as a nutritional supplement, together with a very limited pre-clinical and clinical data suggesting a remarkable safety profile, are sufficient an evidence to imply that MSM is safe for use as an ingredient in Class 1 medicines…”

Dr Stanley Jacob

MSM (Methyl Sulfonyl Methane) also known as DMSO2 (Dimethyl Sulfone), has been used by health therapists and complementary & alternative medical practitioners since the mid 1970’s, when its potential for benefiting health conditions was first identified in association with the clinical trialling of its parent substance DMSO. Most of this research was carried out in the USA, much of it by Dr Stanley Jacob*. Since then, MSM has been used as a dietary supplement and a topical application, to address a variety of physiological conditions including joint discomfort and skin disorders. The compound has been accumulating strong theoretical support, considerable anecdotal support from users, and some scientific research evidence, in support of its role in relieving the symptoms of various physiological disorders. However for MSM to be accepted by the medical profession for its role in the symptomatic relief of clinical conditions such as osteo-arthritis, controlled clinical trials will be needed to demonstrate its efficacy.

MSM In The Modern Diet

MSM belongs to a family of compounds that are abundant in the food chains of terrestrial and ocean life. It is a naturally occurring sulphur compound and component of the normal diets of humans and almost all other vertebrates. It is present at relatively low levels in a wide range of plant and animal tissues and also in tea, coffee and beer. The highest concentrations can be found in unpasteurised cows’ milk, containing approximately 3.3 parts per million. Because MSM is water soluble and highly volatile, it is easily lost in food processing when heat is applied. The amount of MSM taken in a typical modern diet is therefore likely to be very small – especially as milk today is almost always pasteurised.

The Sulphur Cycle

What is known as the “sulphur cycle” begins in the World’s oceans, where algae and phyto-plankton release sulphur compounds in the form of salts when they die. These salts transform in the marine environment into a highly volatile compound known as dimethyl sulphide (DMS). This is the major natural source of sulphur in the atmosphere. Once DMS escapes into the atmosphere, it is converted into either DMSO or MSM in the presence of ozone and high energy ultraviolet light.

Importance of Sulphur In The Human Body

Sulphur is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body –after calcium, phosphorous and potassium. A 70kg human body contains approximately 0.8% or some 200 grams of elemental sulphur. Sulphur can be absorbed into the body as inorganic sulphur in food, or in the sulphur bearing amino acids, cysteine and methionine, also occurring in a wide variety of food stuffs. Sulphur is a major component of connective tissue – such as skin and cartilage. It strengthens connective tissue by forming cross-linkages known as disulfide bonds, thus the integrity of the cartilage in our bodies is dependent on the body having an adequate level of sulphur. Sulphur also combines with other enzymes and amino acids such as glutathione, one of the most important intracellular antioxidants in the human body. It is thought that sulphur may play a role in the control of inflammation.


The pharmacology of DMSO (from which MSM is a metabolite) is reasonably well documented, but the known pharmacology of MSM is more limited. DMSO has several pharmacological properties that may also be true for MSM. DMSO has analgesic properties, the ability to increase blood supply, anti-inflammatory action, it softens collagen and lessens scar tissue, and reduces muscle spasm. MSM’s beneficial action in the human body is typically ascribed to its sulphur content, and its potential to contribute this sulphur to areas where it might be needed, like the joints. However, the chemistry of MSM reveals two methyl groups flanking the sulphur atom, and these are also known to be important in human bio-chemistry. Methylation (attachment of the methyl group to a toxin) and sulfation (the disabling of toxins by attachment to sulphur) are both key processes in the removal of unwanted chemicals & toxins in the body.

Topical Use of MSM

MSM is naturally present in human blood at some 0.7–1.1ppm. There is a limited body of scientific evidence for the oral bioavailability of MSM in humans, but very little on topical bioavailability. However use of topical gels by Dr Stanley Jacob on osteo-arthritis patients at his clinic at Oregon Health & Science University [1980’s & 1990’s]has provided reported evidence of pain relief.* From its use in veterinary health, its oral availability in mammals has been clearly demonstrated, and similarly there is some evidence from veterinary use that it is also topically available.

Manufactured MSM

The quantities of MSM found in nature are insufficient as a source for commercial extraction. The purest commercial MSM is manufactured by reacting hydrogen peroxide with DMSO and the purifying the product through a process of distillation or crystallization. The resulting MSM molecule produced by distillation is chemically indistinguishable from that found in nature. Distillation yields a pure product, but it is more expensive and energy intensive than crystallisation. Because potential contaminants have unique boiling points that differ from that of MSM, they are all removed by distillation, thus the purity of the distilled MSM is not dependent on water quality, as it is in the case of MSM produced by the crystallisation method. [Yin Yang uses MSM (OptiMSM from Bergstrom Nutrition Inc) manufactured by the distillation method.]

Experience with MSM

We would be interested to receive views from visitors to our blog about their experiences with MSM and from members of the medical and scientific community if they have had experience of the substance.

*For more information regarding the use of MSM in the treatment of human disease see: The Definitive Guide, co-authored by Dr Stanley W. Jacob, M.D., F.A.C.S. and Jeremy Appleton, N.D. (Freedom Press 2004).  Dr Jacob has treated over 18,000 patients with MSM.

Dr Stanley Jacob

  • US surgeon
  • Harvard University instructor in Surgery
  • Professor of Medicine at Oregon Health & Science University Portland Oregon
  • Co-author of Structure & Function In Man – one of the major anatomy-physiology texts used in modern medicine.