Breathe easy, allergy sufferers. Help is on the way. A sulfur-containing natural health product called MSM has been shown to relieve nasal congestion, itchy eyes, and other symptoms associated with allergies to pollens and other environmental irritants. MSM is an acronym for methylsulfonylmethane, a safe and effective nutrient with an increasing body of clinical research to support it. MSM is best known as a natural health product used to support joint, hair and skin health, but research confirms what insiders have known for years: MSM is not just for aching joints. This simple nutrient has even more broad-ranging effects throughout the body, because it goes to two the root causes of many conditions: inflammation and immune imbalances.
One in five Canadian adults suffer from allergic rhinitis, making it the most common allergic disease. Each year, millions of Canadians are treated for hayfever and other environmental allergies. Allergic rhinitis, although not a serious disease, can be quite debilitating and results in a significant number lost days of work and school. It can also lead to complications such as ear infections, especially in children.
MSM effectively relieves hayfever symptoms, according to clinical trial published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. “This is the first clinical trial of oral MSM to be published in a peer-reviewed medical journal,” said Eleanor Barrager, the lead researcher. “Until now, the evidence of MSM’s efficacy has been mostly anecdotal.” Not any more. Clinical evidence of MSM’s efficacy, both for allergies, and for arthritis, is beginning to emerge, and to get published in peer-reviewed medical journals.
In the allergy study, 50 hayfever sufferers volunteered received 2,600 mg of MSM orally per day for a month. This was an “open-label” study, meaning that the participants knew what they were taking and no one received placebo. A Seasonal Allergy Symptom Questionnaire was used at the beginning of the study and again each week for four weeks to evaluate respiratory symptoms, like runny nose and itchy eyes. Energy levels were also tracked, and certain immune and inflammatory markers were determined by blood tests.
The study — sponsored by Cardinal Nutrition—was independently conducted by the GENESIS Center for Integrative Medicine and the American Institute for Biosocial Medicine and Research. Participants were treated at two separate U.S. clinics during the height of allergy season: one clinic in Arizona, the other in Washington state. In addition to evaluating the efficacy of MSM for the reduction of hayfever symptoms, the researchers also looked for possible adverse reactions to MSM (they found none), and attempted to discover the mechanism by which MSM improves allergy symptoms.
Results — After one week, the results were evident: participants complained less often of runny nose, watery and itchy eyes, nasal obstruction, and paroxysmal sneezing. These “upper respiratory” symptoms are the main troublemakers for people with seasonal allergies. The results were statistically significant compared to initial symptom reports. After three weeks of taking MSM, study volunteers noticed other changes as well: they were coughing less and had less shortness of breath, indicating that “lower respiratory” health also improved. This is a less common finding in allergy studies.
All respiratory improvements—both upper and lower— were maintained through the end of the study. A fringe benefit of the MSM supplementation was increased energy levels. By the end of the second week, a majority of participants reported increased energy, an effect that was maintained through the end of the study. The volunteers were happy, but the researchers remain puzzled because they observed no significant changes in the laboratory measures of allergic reactivity they had chosen to study. MSM’s efficacy was clear, but its mechanism of action in allergies remained a mystery.
Since no placebo was used in the preliminary study, it is impossible to know how much of the improvement was due to the mind’s effect on health. The promising results of this study warrant a larger, randomized clinical follow-up trial with more extensive laboratory testing. Such a study should also be double-blind and placebo-controlled. Nevertheless, this study is an encouraging beginning and provides the first real scientific validation of MSM’s power as a safe and effective solution for hayfever. Natural health product enthusiasts may not be surprised by these results, but now medical professionals have reason to pay attention as well.
OptiMSM Combats Seasonal Allergies by Jeremy Appleton, ND