Sulfur is a mineral
found near hot springs and volcanic craters. It has a "rotten
egg" smell, of sulfur dioxide gas escaping into the air. As a
supplement, sulfur is available in two forms -- dimethyl
sulfoxide (DMSO) and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). About 15% of
DMSO breaks down into MSM in the body. Both have been touted as
treatments for pain.
MSM occurs naturally
in some plants (such as horsetail), fruits and vegetables, some
grains, and milk. The supplement combines DMSO with hydrogen
peroxide. MSM is important in joint health and helps form
connective tissue (cartilage, tendons, and ligaments). It may
also slow the nerve impulses that transmit pain signals,
baths (often called balneotherapy) can treat skin
disorders and arthritis. Balneotherapy is the oldest forms of
pain relief for people with arthritis. The term "balneo" comes
from the Latin word for bath (balneum) and refers to soaking in
thermal or mineral waters. Some people claim these baths are
useful for allergies and respiratory disorders, but there is no
scientific evidence for these uses. People also apply sulfur
products topically to treat acne and other skin conditions. Many
(but not all) studies suggest there may be a connection between
sulfur gases in the environment and the rise in allergy and
respiratory illnesses, particularly asthma.
Sulfur baths, and
other forms of sulfur applied to the skin, seem to benefit
psoriasis, eczema, dandruff, folliculitis (infected hair
follicles), warts, and pityriasis versicolor (a chronic skin
disorder characterized by patches of skin that differ in color
from the usual skin tone).
-- Well-designed studies, primarily conducted in Israel,
suggest that balneotherapy (including sulfur baths with or
without mud packs or soaks in the Dead Sea) can help treat
several different kinds of arthritis, including
osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and
psoriatic arthritis. People who took sulfur baths and other
spa therapies improved strength, decreased morning
stiffness, had better walking ability, and decreased
inflammation, swelling, and pain in joints, particularly in
the neck and back. Mud packs and Dead Sea salts dissolved in
a regular bath tub also improved symptoms of arthritis, but
not as effectively as the Dead Sea itself.
Rhinitis (Hay Fever)
One preliminary study
showed found that supplementation with 2,600 mg per day of MSM
for 30 days reduced symptoms of seasonal allergies, but more and
larger studies are needed to determine whether there is any real
Topical DMSO has been
proposed as a treatment to relieve pain and inflammation of
shingles (herpes zoster). Some evidence suggests it may lessen
the number of lesions and decrease inflammation, but more
studies are needed.
Although research is
limited, the FDA has approved DMSO to treat interstitial
cystitis (chronic bladder inflammation that causes frequent and
nighttime urination, as well as pain). When DMSO is used to
treat interstitial cystitis, a physician inserts a liquid
solution of DMSO directly into the bladder. General anesthesia
may be required because the procedure can be painful and may
cause bladder spasms.
Several case reports
suggest that DMSO, applied in creams or taken by mouth, may help
treat amyloidosis (a condition where excess protein builds up in
the body's organs, damaging them). However, because the
condition is rare, no scientific studies have examined whether
or not DMSO has any benefit. Take DMSO (or apply it in creams)
only with your doctor's supervision.
MSM is found in
protein-rich foods such as eggs, meat, poultry, fish, and
legumes. Other good sources include garlic, onions, Brussels
sprouts, asparagus, kale, and wheat germ.
Sulfur supplements are
available in two main forms -- dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) and
For healthy people who
eat a well-balanced diet, supplemental sulfur is generally not
necessary. People who follow a vegan diet, however, may be at
risk for sulfur deficiency.
lotions, and dusting powders containing sulfur are available to
treat skin rashes. Natural sulfur baths (the kind usually found
at hot springs) may help ease pain associated with arthritis.