Your MSM manual
Q: Do you have any advice on using MSM for arthritis? Is it safe?
Dr. Wright: Many people use MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) to treat arthritis. And although the effectiveness does vary, most of the people who use it have experienced relief from their arthritis symptoms.
From all outward appearances, MSM seems to be effective and completely safe. A recent study confirmed that it reduces arthritis pain and lessens functional impairment. Studies also show no side effects when it’s used for relatively short time periods, such as a few months to a year.
But MSM might not be as totally harmless as it seems.
There’s at least one long-term effect that is theoretically possible: the depletion of the essential trace element molybdenum. Molybdenum is essential to safe, complete processing of sulfur in human and animal bodies.
MSM contains nearly 30 percent sulfur. Typically, high-sulfur foods like meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, and legumes are balanced by nature to contain the essential nutrients needed to completely metabolize the sulfur content.
But unlike natural foods, MSM supplements don’t contain any other key nutrients needed to metabolize MSM’s high sulfur content. So, in a way, MSM’s sulfur is “naked” because it doesn’t have a rich complex of vitamins and minerals built in.
A century ago this wouldn’t have been a big concern because you would have gotten sufficient molybdenum from the other foods you ate to completely metabolize the sulfur from MSM. Unfortunately, most agricultural soils are much lower in molybdenum and other essential trace minerals than they were 100 years ago.
To make matters worse, processing and refining foods removes most of the remaining molybdenum (and other trace mineral) content. So unless you’re eating a mostly organic diet, you’re getting much, much less molybdenum than your grandparents or great-grandparents.
If you’re taking large quantities of MSM, the molybdenum needed to completely metabolize its sulfur must be “stolen” from an already relatively low-molybdenum diet. Fortunately, there’s likely to be enough molybdenum already present in your body to metabolize MSM over shorter time periods, such as weeks or months.
You’re probably wondering why I’m still concerned about MSM safety. Once again, I’m not concerned if you’re planning to use MSM for just a few months. But if you start using it at age 50 or 60, and it helps relieve your pain, you’re likely to take it for another 20 to 30 years or so.
So if you plan to take MSM for many years because it helps your joints (or for any other reason), you should try to eat an entirely organic diet to make sure you’re getting enough molybdenum to offset the sulfur in the MSM. If eating an entirely organic diet isn’t possible for you, look for one of the brands of MSM that contains at least 50 micrograms of molybdenum for every 1,000 milligrams of MSM.
At the very least, I recommend working with a physician skilled and knowledgeable in nutritional and natural medicine and monitoring your molybdenum levels over the years.