When you're pumping iron at the gym, tiny tears develop in the skeletal muscles you're working. The body rushes to repair those tears and reinforce the torn places. Over time, this process adds to your muscle mass; it's how you bulk up.
Tissue repair is a constant process in the body. As we age, our bodies stop being quite so efficient at it. The collagen we produce gets less elastic [source: The Orthopaedic Research Institute]. The skin gets saggier. The joints get stiffer. The injuries get harder to recover from -- that's why trauma (especially repeated trauma) can lead to arthritis.
Because sulfur and collagen are such major components of tissue repair, MSM is thought to promote the rebuilding of muscles and joint tissue [source: MSM Guide]. Some authorities recommend taking it in combination with other supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, to minimize the tissue damage associated with arthritis [source: The Arthritis and Glucosamine Information Center].
Does increased sulfur actually lead to more or faster tissue repair? We don't quite know. We know that reduced dietary sulfur inhibits tissue repair [source: Brown]. But that's not the same thing as knowing that taking a sulfur supplement increases tissue repair. The body, frustratingly, doesn't work that simply.
The bottom line on MSM? If you want to take it, you probably can. (Do be aware of the possible allergy and contamination issues mentioned earlier, though; as with all supplements and drugs, check the ingredients list very carefully and talk to your doctor.) Supplemental MSM probably won't hurt you -- it just might not help you. If you see a benefit, it could be the placebo effect. Without more research, there's just no way of knowing.
To learn more, visit the links below.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- American Hair Loss Association. "Hair Replacement Basics." (Accessed 3/12/09) http://www.americanhairloss.org/hair_replacement/basics.asp
- The Arthritis and Glucosamine Information Center. "MSM Information." DTC Health. 2009. (Accessed 3/12/09) http://www.glucosamine-arthritis.org/glucosamine/MSM.html
- Bergstrom Nutrition. "Safety First." Bergstrom News Briefs. 2008. (Accessed 3/12/09) http://www.bergstromnutrition.com/news/briefs/safetyfirst/
- Brighter Tomorrow. "Buy MSM Online." (Accessed 3/12/09) http://brighter-tomorrow.info/item.php?group_id=58&id=4484
- Brown, R. Glenn; Button, Grace; and Smith, John T. "Changes in Collagen Metabolism Caused by Feeding Diets Low in Sulfur." JN: The Journal of Nutrition. 1987. (Accessed 3/12/09) http://jn.nutrition.org/cgi/reprint/87/2/228.pdf
- Goodsell, David S. "Collagen: Your Most Plentiful Protein." RCSB Protein Data Bank. April 2000. (Accessed 3/12/09) http://www.rcsb.org/pdb/static.do?p=education_discussion/molecule_of_the_month/pdb4_1.html
- Josephs, Allen S. "Anti-Aging Nutrients for Hair, Skin, and Nails." VitaCost. February 20, 2009. (Accessed 3/12/09) http://www.vitacost.com/ForYourHealth/Anti-Aging-Nutrients-for-Hair-Skin-and-Nails
- Lang, Kerry L. "Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM." Quackwatch. 2001. (Accessed 3/12/09) http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/DSH/msm.html
- The Mayo Clinic. "MSM for Arthritis Pain." July 2, 2007. (Accessed 3/12/09) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/msm/AN00560
- MSM Guide. "How MSM Works to Improve Joint Health." 2008. (Accessed 3/12/09) http://www.msmguide.com/jointpain/improvejointhealth/
- MSM Guide. "MSM Manufacturing." 2008. (Accessed 3/12/09) http://www.msmguide.com/facts/manufacturing/
- Nix, Staci, and Williams, Sue Rodwell. "Chapter 8: Minerals." Williams' Basic Nutrition and Diet Therapy. Mosby, 2005. (Accessed 3/12/09) http://books.google.com/books?id=5qolypPbzyoC&printsec=copyright&dq=collagen+and+sulfur
- Orthopaedic Research Institute. "Musculoskeletal Information." (Accessed 3/12/09) http://www.ori.org.au/bonejoint/shoulder/shoulder.htm
- Shiel Jr., William J., MD. "Osteoarthritis (OA or Degenerative Arthritis." MedicineNet. 2009. (Accessed 3/12/09) http://www.medicinenet.com/osteoarthritis/article.htm
- WebMD. "Building Muscle." (Accessed 3/12/09) http://men.webmd.com/workout-tips