Methylsulfonylmethane. A mouthful, isn’t it? No worries, we will break this word down for you. During your reading pleasure with us, you will learn about the tenth most abundant element in the Universe, and you carry it inside of you, sulfur.
Big Picture Summary
Methylsulfonylmethane, short MSM, is naturally occurring sulfur that can be used as a food supplement. MSM is a mineral found in nature and our diet. And we need it. Sulfur plays a role in,
- the function of hormones,
- helps activate vitamins,
- supports the immune system,
- acts as an antioxidant agent,
- helps structure and strengthen cartilage and boost elasticity of skin.
Deficiency may result in arthritis, depression, GI issues. It may reduce pain and inflammation of muscle, to name a few. Are you ready to dive deeper?
First, let’s look at Sulfur
Sulfur exists in the Universe. In nature, sulfur makes up 3% of the earth’s mass. Do you know what that means? We didn’t either, and we looked it up. We read that 3% of the earth’s mass would make up two full moons worth. This sulfur must be important, don’t you think?
Sulfur is also one of the abundant mineral elements in our body with calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and sulfur. Humans have known about sulfur for thousands of years. In the Bible, sulfur is coined as brimstone.
But let’s not get ahead now. We need some basics to avoid drowning in words like elements, minerals, MSM, etc.
Are you ready for some fun chemistry basics?
Sulfur is an element.
But what’s an element? An element is made up of one kind of atom. All atoms of one element are identical. They have the same chemical and physical properties and cannot be broken down into simpler substances by chemical means. Think of the atom as the most fundamental building block of life.
What do these elements do? Elements make up stuff, like matter. What’s matter?
Anything that has mass and takes up space. It’s the material of the Universe. Matter is made up of substances, and that is just a specific type of matter like a type of rock, or water or iron wire. Everything in the Universe, including the sun and stars and moons are made up of only roughly 100 unique elements. And combining these can produce more than millions of other matter.
- Sulfur is the tenth most abundant element by weight in the Universe.
- The earth’s crust is made up of oxygen, silicon, aluminum, iron, calcium, sodium magnesium, potassium, titanium and others in less percentages.
Compare that to the human body. The most abundant elements in our body are oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium. Can you see a connection?
Like humans, atoms don’t like to be alone. That is why we find only a few elements in a free state, the loners. Atoms have attractions, just like humans. They mingle and connect with other atoms. They form bonds with different atoms. These bonds add richness and diversity to life by becoming a compound (a relationship, a close knit family).
What’s a compound and how does that relate to MSM?
Compounds are simply made up of two or more elements that have a chemical bond. Take water. Water is a compound made from the elements water and two hydrogen atoms. Look at salt. Salts are made up from sodium and chlorine. It’s these chemical compounds (structures) that take part in chemical reactions.
MSM is one such compound, which is made up of sulfur, oxygen, carbon and hydrogen. These are all elements.
Sulfur does not exist in its single atom state but has bonds with other elements to make up MSM. And MSM is how we take in sulfur in a form that is available to us.
Sulfur is an element and a pure geological and biological mineral that plays a role in the body. A mineral is a naturally occurring inorganic substance. What’s inorganic? It's a matter that is neither plant or animal.
This mineral helps to build and repair DNA. Biochemically, sulfur equally helps to protect our cells from damage, supports insulin production, maintains structure and health of skin (collagen), and strong hair and nails (keratin).
People have recognized sulfur for its healing qualities since ancient times. Romans and Greek bathed and soaked in sulfur springs to help with rheumatic diseases. Did you know that penicillin contains sulfur?
We are only barely beginning to understand how precisely sulfur may contribute to our health and well-being.
Completing the Circle
What’s in a name? Methyl-sulfonyl-methane.
Science aims at precise descriptions of chemical compounds to rule out misunderstandings that could lead to unhealthy and or disastrous consequences if our chemistry were to get mixed up in a bad way.
Methyl - This comes from the Greek and refers to alcohol made from wood. Methyl is the name that tells us it is a compound made from a carbon atom and three hydrogen atoms. It is found in many organic compounds.
Sulfonyl - This is a group which carries the sulfur atom that is bound to oxygen atoms and other groups of hydrogen and carbon.
Methane - A simple and powerful chemical compound that is made up of a carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. Natural gas is about 90% methane.
Where does MSM come from?
MSM exists in the atmosphere, primitive plants, some foods and beverages. It is a white crystalline solid when at room temperature. It is approved as a safe supplement by the FDA, which includes manufactured MSM.
Naturally, MSM is synthesized as part of nature’s occurring sulfur cycle. It exists in rock minerals that are carried into oceans and bodies of water. There, microorganisms convert it so that the fine spray is released into the air. We are simplifying the process for a general understanding.
Once in the atmosphere, chemical reactions occur and with the help of ozone, UV, MSM is formed. MSM then returns with rain to the earth. There, MSM is absorbed by plant root systems, where it accumulates. While plants contain MSM, animals eat the plants, and we in turn eat plants and meat. However, the concentration of intake is very low.
Instead of extracting MSM from plants, which would be inefficient and create huge amounts of organic waste, the mineral is produced commercially of excellent value and concentration.
MSM And Studies on Human Body
MSM has been used as a complementary and alternative medicine under many other names, such as organic sulfur. It has been extensively studied in mice and humans, it is well-tolerated and exhibits few mild side-effects, and therefore approved as generally safe.
MSM can support improved outcome as a supplement as an anti-inflammatory supportive agent, joint and muscle pain and antioxidant, skin smoothing enhancement. MSM is easily absorbed and penetrates the membranes to be available throughout the body.
How MSM functions in the body is studied extensively and the biochemistry of the pathways is complex. At the cellular level, MSM may act as an indirect inhibitor of agents that increase inflammation, while at subcellular level it influences expressions of inflammatory protein downregulation. As an antioxidant mediator, it acts by influencing proteins that help turn genes on or off.
While MSM is an accepted supplementation aiding with well-being, the medical community is yet working towards more scientific knowledge of the precise biochemical pathways and actions within the body that support a healthy lifestyle.