MSM – sulphur that makes us beautiful

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MSM – sulphur that makes us beautiful


Sulphur is an essential chemical element, yet it has remained somewhat overlooked in the world of nutrition. However, recent findings suggest that sulphur is more crucial than we might have thought.

In the past, it was common for people to visit resorts and bathe in sulphur-rich springs to alleviate joint discomfort. Several studies have been conducted to observe the effects of spa treatments involving mudpacks and/or baths in sulphur-rich water from the Dead Sea on individuals with joint issues. The results indicate that, primarily, the baths have a positive effect.

MSM is sulphur

It's also interesting to note that many places where the population lives exceptionally long lives—the so-called blue zones like Costa Rica, Ikaria, Okinawa, and Sardinia—often consist of volcanic soil rich in sulphur, among other things. Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a highly sulphur-rich substance with 35% organic sulphur.

Sulfur and MSM beneficial for

All cells contain sulfur, both in animals and plants. In the human body, sulfur is the second most common mineral after calcium and phosphorus. We have particularly high levels of sulfur in tissues such as bones, cartilage, joints, hair, skin, and nails, as well as in myelin, which acts as a protective layer around our nerve cells. Sulfur contributes to building the body's structures.

Sulfur is also needed for healthy, elastic cell walls so that various fluids can be transported in and out of cells. This means that sulfur also helps maintain the acid-base balance in the body. If this fluid transport doesn't function properly, inflammation and pain can occur, and there is a greater risk of certain neurodegenerative diseases.

As early as the 1930s, researchers demonstrated that individuals with joint problems had a sulfur deficiency and improved when the mineral was added. In addition to its constructive effect on cartilage and joint tissues, it has been understood more recently that sulfur inhibits various enzymes that break down these materials in the body. In short, the body would lack any structure if it completely lacked sulfur, and it would be just a shapeless mass.

MSM good for detoxification

Another task for sulfur is to assist in the body's detoxification process. The mineral is needed for the production of bile in the liver and for manufacturing antioxidants such as alpha-lipoic acid and glutathione, which break down various toxins, medications, steroid hormones, and other compounds in the body.

Sulfur is also present in several sulfur-bearing substances, especially the amino acids methionine, cysteine, and cystine, but also in the B-vitamins thiamine, pantothenic acid, and biotin, as well as in the hormone insulin. This means that we need to get enough sulfur for the body to be able to metabolize fats, carbohydrates, and glucose (which B-vitamins contribute to), as well as produce enough insulin—something that is especially important for diabetics.

And that's not all. Various metabolites containing sulfur, including the antioxidant glutathione, interact with a wide range of other compounds that have important roles in the body, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, selenium, zinc, copper, and magnesium, as well as vitamins C and E and other antioxidants. According to researchers Marcel Nimni, Bo Han, and Fabiola Cordoba, who wrote the article "Are we getting enough sulfur in our diet," there is increasing evidence that glutathione and other sulfur-containing metabolites play a crucial role in the functioning of the mechanisms involving the aforementioned nutrients.

Sulfur and MSM in food

To ensure an adequate intake of sulfur, it is important to consume foods containing sulfur-containing amino acids such as methionine and cysteine. The body can produce the other sulfur-rich amino acids—cystine, glutathione, and taurine—from them. Such foods include organic egg yolk, meat from grass-fed animals, seafood, and wild-caught fish.

Moreover, many plants excel at absorbing sulfur from the soil and transmitting it to us through various organic sulfur compounds. Examples include cruciferous vegetables like red cabbage, broccoli, and bok choy, allium vegetables like garlic, red onion, and leek, as well as stalk vegetables like celery, fennel, and asparagus. Walnuts, almonds, and sesame seeds also qualify, along with coconuts, olives, bananas, pineapples, and all types of legumes (always soak and pressure-cook legumes if you intend to eat them). The issue with these plants is that they often contain many anti-nutrients.

Unfortunately, sulfur has become scarce in several parts of the world due to leached soils. Modern, high-yield intensive farming adds large amounts of fertilizers containing three substances: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. This means that other minerals, including sulfur, are crowded out.

See, sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cysteine are not stored to a great extent in the body, except as reduced glutathione (GSH) in the liver. Most excess is oxidized to sulfate and excreted through urine. Therefore, a constant intake through the diet is essential. As glutathione is vital for the body's detoxification processes and defense against oxidative stress, joints and cartilage will suffer in case of sulfur deficiency in the body. Since joints are not as crucial for survival as the brain and liver, sulfur-rich supplements like MSM and glucosamine sulfate can be beneficial.

Sulfur and MSM dietary supplements

Sulfur is not available as a dietary supplement, but it is present in the form of the body's own substance methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). MSM consists of 35 percent organic sulfur and occurs in all vertebrates and plants. The substance can also be produced synthetically, often utilizing the plant molecule lignin from pine.

In addition to its role as a sulfur donor, MSM also appears to influence the turnover of sulfur in the body, but exactly how this function occurs has not yet been clarified.

A clinical study from 2006 demonstrated that 3 grams of MSM taken twice daily for 12 weeks significantly reduced pain in individuals with knee joint wear. In another trial from 2016 involving 120 people with joint wear, MSM combined with the anti-inflammatory herb boswellia yielded better results than treatment with glucosamine sulfate. However, a third study from 2004 showed that a combination of MSM and glucosamine in 118 individuals with joint wear worked better than when taken individually. Further trials with MSM indicate that the supplement also reduces exercise-induced soreness and injuries to larger muscles.

Other good ways to get sulfur from dietary supplements are to introduce sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cysteine. Sulfur carriers alpha-lipoic acid and glucosamine sulfate can also be beneficial as supplements. Glucosamine helps transport sulfur into cartilage, while alpha-lipoic acid is a potent antioxidant that also helps the body recycle other spent antioxidants and increases glucose burning in cells. Lipoic acid also binds to heavy metals and expels them from the body.

Sulfur can also be obtained by bathing in sulfur-rich springs or water containing sulfur compounds, e.g., magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt). However, such water should not be ingested.

Sulfur Dioxide, Sulfites, and MSM

MSM contains the organic form of sulfur and should not be confused with inorganic sulfur compounds formed during sulfur combustion. Such compounds include sulfur dioxide and various sulfites, which are often used as preservatives in food and can cause hypersensitivity reactions.

Is MSM safe?

MSM is a well-tested substance and has proven to be entirely safe even in high doses. MSM is effective in doses ranging from about 1.5 grams to 6 grams. The recommendation is to start with around 500 milligrams and gradually increase the dose over a couple of weeks. Since MSM increases the amount of glutathione in the body, the body's detoxification capacity likely increases. This could potentially lead to so-called detoxification symptoms, such as skin rashes, if one initiates with a too-high dose. Obtaining high doses of MSM through food is challenging. Even on a plant-based diet, one only gets about 5 milligrams of MSM per day.

To find a good MSM product, it's essential to look at how it's manufactured. The best scenario is if it's produced through distillation, as any impurities like heavy metals are removed during the process. However, crystallization is a less expensive method that yields a cheaper final product. The MSM sold by is produced through distillation and at the world's only facility capable of preventing cross-contamination (e.g., with heavy metals) that may occur if other sulfur-containing products are manufactured in the same location.

How can MSM help?

Most people take MSM to improve skin, hair, and nails, as well as to reduce issues with inflammation, joint pain, and joint wear. Many also use MSM for detoxification and to decrease so-called leaky gut. Some individuals also take MSM for birch pollen allergy.

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