To any athlete looking to achieve consistent and long-term results, joint health should be considered as important as proper training and diet. If the joints aren’t fully functional, then strength and speed will be suboptimal, no matter how good the diet is.
Unfortunately, the joint supplement market is littered with several inferior ingredients that are far too overhyped, but rarely live up to expectations or help in actual human studies. However, one ingredient that’s been around a long time is gaining traction in the sports and fitness community in large part to its human trials showing it can work wonders for joints.
Its name is MSM, short for methylsulfonylmethane.
MSM is an organic sulfur-containing molecule found in many joint supplements today.
- The data: Studies using MSM have found that it decreases joint pain, accelerate recovery from injury, as well as improving mobility and lowering inflammation. (Skip to MSM Benefits section)
- How it works: MSM supplies the body with a useable form of sulfur, which is required by the body for protein synthesis, forming connective tissue, metabolizing foods, and absorbing nutrients for energy. (Skip to the How MSM Works section)
- Dosage: The human studies that consistently yield the most benefits for joint pain and soreness reduction use 3g/day. (Skip to the MSM Dosage section)
- Best MSM ingredient to look for: OptiMSM® is the most trusted raw ingredient to look for. It is manufactured in the USA under the strictest of regulations and has been used in human studies. (Skip to the Best MSM Ingredient section)
- Best MSM Supplements:
- NutraBio OptiMSM®: supplies 1g OptiMSM® per capsule and is manufactured in NutraBio’s premier GMP-certified facility in the US (go to best deal)
- Doctor’s Best MSM: pure bulk OptiMSM® powder that can be easily added to protein shakes, pre or post workout drinks (go to best deal)
(See the best MSM supplement section)
- MSM is Safe: It’s shown to be non-toxic and safe with safety studies lasting as long as six months. (Skip to the MSM Side Effects section)
What is MSM?
MSM is known as one of the most popular joint supplements used today, along with Glucosamine and sometimes Chondroitin. For the purposes of this guide, we’re going to explore how it can help competitive athletes and weightlifters, although others looking for joint pain relief should continue reading as well.
How Does MSM Work?
MSM is a natural byproduct of the oxidation of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), and its medicinal properties seem to mimic those of DMSO. In the body, DMSO is converted to MSM, which stays active longer in the body than DMSO, allowing it to have a more long-term impact.[2,3]
Supplements containing MSM supply the body with extra sulfur to help create methionine, an essential amino acid, and one of only two sulfur-containing amino acids. Methionine is vital to a number of crucial bodily processes including the synthesis of proteins, forming connective tissue, metabolizing foods and absorbing nutrients to be used for energy.
Why Is More Sulfur Good?
The answer to this question requires an understanding of our ancestry. Our ancient forefathers ate diets replete with foods containing high amounts of sulfur (ie animal parts, vegetables and many fruits); however, given today’s advances in “convenience food”, many people simply lack these foods in their diets, resulting in low / deficient levels of sulfur in today’s diets. Even worse, sulfur reserves in the body decrease as you age and in times of stress.
Bear in mind that sulfur is a vital component of cartilage. It also happens to be the third most abundant mineral in the body, based on percentage of body weight. So you can see how critical consuming adequate sulfur-containing foods can be to overall joint health and integrity.
Where to find Sulfur?
Sulfur can be found from a number of different “whole food” sources, but the best sources of the nutrient are from like cruciferous vegetables (ie broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc.), eggs, and sea vegetables. The drawback to these whole food sources is that some of their natural sulfur can become degraded / destroyed when the foods aren’t 100% fresh or when they’re processed or even cooked at high temperatures.
The primary differences between sulfur as we usually think of it (the “rotten egg smell”) and MSM is that MSM is odorless and tasteless, which is why you’re spared the rather offensive smell that can be produced when eggs or certain veggies are cooked.
Our natural MSM stores
In humans and other animals, MSM is naturally found in the adrenal cortex, which is a component of our hormonal system that helps regulate our response to various stressors. It’s also stored in our cerebrospinal fluid and used to maintain the integrity of normal connective tissues. Even more significant is the fact that MSM is one of the few substances that can actually cross the blood-brain barrier[7,8], and is equally distributed between the gray and white matter of the brain.
Background: What Causes Joint Pain?
The average human being starts out with healthy, structurally sound joints, which are fortified by components such as cartilage, synovial fluid, and membrane which provide a “buffer” of sorts between bones to reduce friction and provide ease of movement. Much like our muscles, joints adapt to demands imposed on them by altering or “adapting” certain structural components within the cartilage (mostly type II collagen). This allows for adequate space for the normal biomechanics of the joint, e.g. extension and flexion.
However, when joint biomechanics aren’t normal or optimal, joints don’t adapt properly to the changing conditions and cartilage is not replenished as it should be. As a result of this “maladaptation,” swelling, stiffness, achiness, and ultimately, arthritis all set in. This process involves localized inflammation whereby inflammatory cells congregate at the site of injury and unleash a batch of chemicals which are destructive to cartilage tissue.
MSM Supplement Benefits
MSM has been in the forefront of joint health supplementation for quite a while now, and the research has continued to evolve alongside our furthered understanding of human physiology. Thus, new trials are consistently finding new successful uses for the compound. Below is a list of the major benefits of MSM Supplements:
Reduced PainUndoubtedly, pain is the primary reason many investigate joint supplements, and there is no pain is worse than knee, hip, and back pain. Thankfully, research is showing that MSM provides an all-natural supplemental alternative to pain relief to consider prior to succumbing to a steady stream of prescription painkillers for those cranky joints. Two different studies on MSM documented that consuming 3g/day significantly reduced post-exercise muscle and joint pain compared to placebo![9,10] Researchers noted that MSM exerted mild alleviating effects on protein carbonylation, and it possibly elevated plasma total antioxidant capacity. Furthermore, MSM supplementation appeared to greatly reduce several key markers of muscle damage following acute exercise, namely serum Malondialdehyde (MDA), serum uric acid and bilirubin levels following acute exercise.
This post exercise result leads us to our next MSM benefit:
Recovery from Injury Research
No matter how careful you train, if you’re continually pushing the limits of your true potential, eventually your body is going to wear down in one or more particular areas, and you’re going to get injured to some extent. Some interesting research on MSM has shown that regularly consuming it can speed recovery from injury!
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study in 2015 enlisted 40 resistance-trained men to test for changes in soreness following intense training. The test group received 3g/day MSM while the control received a placebo. At the end of the 28 days, researchers documented a greater absolute change in muscle soreness during passive knee flexion, meaning they experienced better recovery since there was less soreness felt.
Based on the finding, researchers further proposed that individuals may be able to return to regular training more quickly following knee extensor damage with MSM supplementation. With recovery time at a premium for in-season athletes, this study is worth reading.
A major consequence of chronic joint pain is the significant reduction in range of motion and overall mobility of the joints. Think about how many lifters you see in the gym doing partial squats due to cranky knees and hips! Lost mobility leads to lost strength and ultimately worse athletic performance.
In addition to reducing pain and soreness, MSM has also been found to improve joint mobility. Several studies using MSM at a dose of 3g per day noted significant improvements in physical function, and WOMAC scores.[12,13,14]
WOMAC stands for Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Arthritis Index and is a widely used, proprietary set of questionnaires used by doctors to evaluate the condition of patients with osteoarthritis of joints, specifically the knees and hips. Notable metrics from questionnaire include pain, stiffness, and overall functioning of the joints.
Higher scores are typically associated with increased pain and decreased mobility. So, the fact that MSM supplementation has been associated with decreases in WOMAC scores over the course of these three double-blinded, placebo-controlled research trials indicates that MSM is indeed effective in reducing pain (up to 25% reduction in pain!) and improving not only joint mobility, but also quality of life – effective for both athletes and the rest of the population!
Benefits continue through six months!
The first study cited above was extremely interesting in that it lasted six months and the outcomes were still improving even at the end of the study! This means that it’s extremely possible (and even likely) that continual MSM use beyond half a year would make for further improvements.
Further good news is that no toxicity was found after that time period, making MSM safe for long-term use. This is discussed in detail later on in the “side effects” section, but the quick take is that no side effects have been found.
As we stated up top in the discussion of the causes of arthritis, the catalyst of joint degradation is inflammation. The body’s inflammatory response activates immune cells to release various compounds that destroy cartilage. So it stands to reason that if we can reduce the amount of inflammation occurring the joint, we can potentially preserve and enhance the function of joints into our golden years.
A randomized, double-blind, controlled clinical trial from 2004 enlisted 118 men and women with mild to moderate osteoarthritis and tested the efficacy of Glucosamine (500mg), MSM (500mg), Glucosamine and MSM, or placebo capsules 3 times per day for 12 weeks on several markers of osteoarthritis. After 12 weeks, researchers measured the mean swelling index of the participants and found that the Glucosamine and MSM groups experienced significant decreases in swelling. Furthermore, the combination therapy (glucosamine + MSM) proved superior to either of the solo protocols in reducing pain and swelling and in improving joint functionality. This may help explain why we see some many joint supplements on the market pairing these two ingredients together!
New Findings: Decrease in Oxidative Stress Post-Workout!
A recent 2015 trial appearing in the Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research documented significant decreases in oxidative stress (a key marker of muscle damage) at 2 hours and 24 hours post-workout compared to subjects using a placebo.
“MSM, acting as an antioxidant, is able to blunt tissue damage and the resulting inflammation and, as a consequence, prevent leukocyte apoptosis.” In short, consuming MSM around your training window could reduce muscle soreness and the counterproductive modifications of useful amino acids. On top of that, it also reduces the level of immunosuppression (blunting of the immune system)!
But will this prevent muscle-building?
When we see something is anti-inflammatory, that’s often a great thing, but sometimes too much of a good thing is counter-productive — especially for athletes. The muscle-building process, hypertrophy, is based upon “good inflammation”, after all.
Fortunately, MSM’s anti-inflammatory mechanisms do not prevent muscle gains in such a manner. MSM is not a direct antioxidant, so it doesn’t throw a wet blanket on the oxidative molecules necessary for muscle growth and adaptation.
Instead, it works with your body’s natural antioxidative pathways like glutathione and SOD (Superoxide dismutase) to help your body address the damaging levels of oxidative stress while maintaining a healthy amount for cell signaling.
So why isn’t this offered in any post workout supplements? We’re not sure, but the data clearly presents a solid opportunity for sports nutrition brands out there.
Other Benefits of MSM
MSM isn’t just about improving your joints, a number of other trials conducted, in both human and animals have found a myriad of benefits of the compound including:
Decreases Symptoms from Seasonal Allergies
Seasonal allergies are one of the biggest inconveniences and headaches (literally!) that affect over 23 million Americans each year. Researchers enlisted 55 men and women (ages 30 to 64) to evaluate the efficacy of MSM on reducing symptoms of Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis (SAR). Subjects received MSM at 2,600mg / day for 30 days. At the end of the trial, researchers noticed significant reductions at day 7, which then increased at day 14, and maintained until the end of the trial at day 30.
Additionally, the group also reported significantly increased energy levels by day 14 — low energy is a common characteristic of dealing with allergies, often due to improper breathing, and the researchers found little to no side effects from the group consuming MSM.
Oxidative stress is often a result from intense physical exercise. Basically, oxidative stress occurs whenever there is an imbalance between free radical production and the body’s antioxidant defense system, meaning more free radicals are floating around and not enough antioxidants to neutralize them. As a result, inflammation sets in leading to a whole host of complications, one of which being joint pain as discussed above.
It just so happens, that MSM, in addition to alleviating joint pain, also acts as a powerful antioxidant in the body helping to quell the beast that is oxidative stress. Various research trials have found “significant increases” in antioxidant capacity, as measured by TEAC (Trolox equivalent antioxidant capacity), when MSM was consumed at a dose of 3g following exercise. [21,22]
What are the best MSM supplements?
Below are the best MSM supplements based upon two things: the trusted brands behind them and the raw material ingredient used. That ingredient is OptiMSM, which is discussed in the next section.
If you want to try MSM solo with no other confounding ingredients, this is by far the way to go. NutraBio is the industry leader in transparency and quality, and they give you the purest form of MSM in OptiMSM®.
Due to NutraBio’s capsule machinery, it has no junk/fillers like excipients or artificial substances — just pure, unadulterated OptiMSM.
This makes the most affordable and convenient option should you want to stack MSM with any current joint supplement you may be running.
Six Star Nutrition Joint & Muscle Recovery is a new joint supplement that uses effectively dosed new age ingredient to improve joint health. Specifically, it features OptiMSM® and UC-II® Standardized Collagen. These improve joint mobility during exercise and support muscle recovery so you can keep grinding away in the gym day after day without grinding away your joints!
See our Six Star Joint & Muscle Recovery for availability and to sign up for release notifications and deal alerts!
Doctor’s Best MSM comes in all three forms: tablets, capsules, and powder. This is pure OptiMSM® powder that can be used to promote joint comfort and mobility by supporting healthy connective tissue and joints.
Note that MSM powder is extremely water soluble and can be easily added to protein shakes, pre workout drinks, or even yogurt! If you’re tired of adding more pills to your existing regimen, the powder form is definitely the way to go.
In the price comparisons below, the Grams section is the powdered form:
What’s the best MSM ingredient?
Bergstrom Nutrition’s OptiMSM® employs a distillation process that ensures a 99.9% pure product to guarantee a consistent, high-quality form of MSM.
The reason we’re recommending OptiMSM® is that it’s the one company sourcing actual human-based research out there with placebo controls – this is not cheap and it’s important to support the brands that are making real strides in the joint health field. You can see the charts from these studies pictured in the above sections where the results are discussed.
On top of that, Bergstrom’s OptiMSM is the only GRAS-designated, Kosher and Halal certified, non-GMO, gluten-free, allergen-free, non-shellfish-derived, vegan MSM backed by extensive toxicology data.
Made in the USA
Finally, this is one of the few ingredients in the entire supplement industry that is actually manufactured in the USA. While several finished supplement products are often “assembled” in the USA, the actual raw material ingredients are almost always of foreign source. Not OptiMSM – this one’s made in America.
By keeping manufacturing in America, Bergstrom’s stayed true to their commitment to total quality and control of their ingredient – from start to finish.
You can read more about it at www.OptiMSM.com.
Note: Bergstrom’s MSM purification process is proprietary, but not patented. We’re told it’s not patented because that would force Bergstrom to share their trade secret with the world, which nobody else has figured out yet.
Where to find OptiMSM
You can compare prices, sign up for price drop alerts, and see all recommended MSM supplements on our OptiMSM page on PricePlow.
MSM Dosage Recommendations
Although there have been a wide variety of doses administered among the numerous clinical trials conducted on MSM, the dose that seems to consistently yield the most benefits in regards to joint improvement, pain alleviation, and soreness reduction appears to be 3g/day.
Do you need to cycle on and off?
No, you do not need to “cycle” off of MSM – it can be continually used every day, based upon the safety research discussed in the next section.
Take with food? Empty stomach?
MSM can be taken all at once or in multiple doses throughout the day with or without food. Follow the instructions on your specific MSM supplement’s label, but the general idea is to just get it in every day, so stick to a consistent daily routine that works best for you.
MSM Side Effects: Any Toxicity Concerns?
MSM is believed to be non-toxic. No “multi-year” long-term studies have been performed on MSM to assess potential long-term effects, although one study on showed no side effects after six months of supplementation at a 6g/day dose, which is twice the recommended dose from other successful studies!
Additionally, research ranging from 30 to 90 days in length using a diverse range of doses have not documented any significant side effects or rates of increased mortality.[24,25]
What’s interesting about the six month study is that outcomes continued to improve even at the six month mark, indicating that the full benefits were still not realized even after half a year!
Finally, extensive toxicology studies have shown MSM to be very safe.
As always, you must speak to your physician and get their consent before beginning any new supplement. This is especially true for those already on prescription drugs. No statements on this page have been approved by the FDA.
MSM Supplements have always been lumped together with glucosamine and chondroitin, marketed to the aging population. Clearly it has some incredible use there, but it’s been ignored by the athletic community for far too long.
Very rarely do we encounter true “miracle workers” in the supplement realm, even less so with natural supplements. MSM, however, truly appears to be one of those rare gems that delivers on all of its promises and then some!
We also think that OptiMSM® has an incredible story, as it’s one of the few raw material ingredients manufactured right here in the USA with the strictest of controls. On top of that, its creator, Bergstrom Nutrition, has done an incredible job advancing research into this compound for all demographics.
If you’re one of those individuals plagued by chronic aches and pains, MSM should be on you “must-have” list of supplements heading into the new year. It may just be the “fountain of joint youth” you’re looking for as you approach your more mature years or your most intense athletic season!
Where to find OptiMSM
You can compare prices, sign up for price drop alerts, and see all recommended MSM supplements on our OptiMSM page on PricePlow.