Glucosamine and Chondroitin are popular compounds used to treat joints which you may be aware of, but there is a very effective third choice: MSM. MSM is very similar to other dietary supplements used to treat disease and inflammation of the joints. MSM is a supplement for arthritis, hair growth, skin, bladder health, and is an antioxidant, an exercise recovery and performance booster, and can help in fighting certain cancers. It is the most effective form of its parent supplement DMSO but is tolerated better and delivers more benefits. Like glucosamine (whose full scientific name is glucosamine sulfate) and chondroitin (chondroitin sulfate), MSM also contains sulfate and is truly beneficial for joints, skin, immunity, and more.
What is MSM?
MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) is an oxidized form of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO). DMSO is a sulfur compound naturally occurring in green vegetables, derived from lignan. MSM is also known as dimethyl sulfone or DMSO2. 
Sources of MSM
MSM can be found in Swiss chard, tomatoes (tomato fruit and tomato paste), corn, cabbage, beets, alfalfa, chicken (mostly in liver and muscle tissue), dairy produced from cows, tea, coffee, and beer. 
Chemical Properties of MSM
DMSO and MSM are best described as sulfur donors. Sulfur is found in cartilage and is one of the most abundant minerals found in the human body. Most of the sulfur is absorbed through our diets from proteins. Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are a source of sulfur themselves, but only 2 out of 20 amino acids contain sulfur. The amino acid methionine can only be derived from diet, whereas other amino acids such as cysteine can be synthesized directly the human body through a supply of sulfur. 
Inorganic sulfates (meaning not made inside the body) make up a small percentage of sulfur in our diets and can be found in garlic, broccoli, and onion. Protein may have between 3-6% sulfur amino acids. Methionine is the most effective facilitator for sulfur because dietary methionine can be converted into methionine sulfur and then to cysteine sulfur at a rate of 100% efficiency. Methionine can then provide all the sulfur needed for the human body, except for the other two essential vitamins which contain sulfur, thiamin and biotin. 
How does MSM work?
Sulfur amino acids provide sulfates for glycosaminoglycans (GAG) synthesis and glutathione (GSH) synthesis in cartilage. Dietary sulfate is either oxidized to sulfate, reabsorbed or excreted, or stored in glutathione (GSH). Sulfur is stored in the liver in GSH. If there is not enough sulfur present in the body, the process of sulfur being directed to cartilage may be put on hold. As people age, they are likely to have less protein in their diet and therefore less sulfur amino acids. Taking dietary supplements which contain sulfur such as glucosamine, chondroitin, or MSM helps target the cartilage in joints and provides protection, reduces inflammation, and relieves pain. 
Pain relief in this process is provided by GSH. When there is a high level of GSH present, it inhibits prostaglandin production which is the main culprit of inflammation and degeneration. Some prostaglandins and the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) used to treat inflammation interact with the same pathway of COX enzymes (cyclooxygenase) where GSH becomes involved and inhibits the prostaglandin production. Some studies have found chondroitin sulfate to be equal to the relief provided by an NSAID. 
In plants, the process that occurs and creates MSM as a byproduct of oxidation of DMSO (dimethylsulfoxide) takes place in the roots and leaves. MSM can be further processed into another metabolite, dimethylsulfide (DMS). DMS, as an unstable and gaseous metabolite, is the source of MSM in plants because DMS is then converted into DMSO by radiation and photosynthesis. The roots and leaves of plants can absorb DMSO. 
What are the benefits of MSM?
MSM is an Anti-inflammatory
MSM inhibits NF-kB (in mice)—MSM increases glutathione levels (GSH), catalase (CAT) and decreases proinflammatory cytokines tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-a and interleukins.
MSM Improves Osteoarthritis
MSM improved symptoms of pain and improved daily living performance in osteoarthritis patients—this study from 2006 concluded that MSM improved symptoms of osteoarthritis
MSM is an Antioxidant
MSM has an antioxidant effect—MSM regulates the balance of reactive oxygen species (ROS, free radicals) and antioxidant enzymes. MSM downregulates the amount of the superoxide radical and nitric oxide.
MSM helps hair growth
MSM combined with magnesium ascorbyl phosphate treats alopecia—MSM combined with MAP helps hair grow
Helps fight cancer cells
Helps relieve interstitial cystitis
MSM relieves interstitial cystitis—Glycosaminoglycans (GAG) are found in the protective inner lining of the bladder which can relieve interstitial cystitis, a chronic and painful irritation of the bladder. (Read more)
Aids in exercise recovery and performance
MSM improves exercise recovery and performance—MSM reduces oxidative stress during exercise.
Improves skin quality and texture
MSM increases skin quality and texture—MSM donates sulfur to keratin and increases available keratin
How much MSM should I take?
- Joint pain: 500 mg daily
- Osteoarthritis: 5 to 6 g daily
- Exercise recovery: 50 mg/kg body weight 
- Interstitial cystitis: 1 g daily 
Safety and Side Effects of MSM
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- Nimni, Marcel E et al. “Are we getting enough sulfur in our diet?.” Nutrition & metabolismvol. 4 24. 6 Nov. 2007, doi:10.1186/1743-7075-4-24
- “Methylsulfonylmethane.” Foods, Herbs, & Supplements. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=522.
- Marshall, Keri. “Interstitial Cystitis: Understanding the Syndrome.” Alternative Medicine Review, vol. 8, no. 4, 2003, chiro.org/alt_med_abstracts/FULL/Interstitial_Cystitis.pdf.
- Horvath, K., et al. “Toxicity of Methylsulfonylmethane in Rats.” Food Chem Toxicol., vol. 40, no. 10, Oct. 2002, pp. 1459–62., www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12387309.