Forgotten research - sulphation and autism has been one of the more widely read posts on this blog. Surprising really, because the post was almost an obituary to a research area which seems to have gone the way of the dodo despite producing some quite compelling data. The crux of the issue is that a proportion of people on the autism spectrum present with low levels of plasma sulphate (sulfate) coupled with high urinary levels. The theory was that for whatever reason, sulphate was being dumped in the urine and perhaps wasn't available in the quantities required to perform functions such as sulphating mucoproteins and metabolising certain foods and medications. I also mentioned in this past post about the (anecdotal) reports of people trying to supplement various sulphur-containing compounds to stem the tide and increase functional levels of sulphate. This neatly brings me on to the topic of this post, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM).
I was reminded of MSM by a recent article published in the Pharmaceutical Journal (PJ). The article was quite a good overview of MSM, glucosamine and chondroitin specifically in relation to the 'management' of physical function and pain in arthritis. The theory of MSM use for arthritis is that MSM is sulphur rich - about 1g of MSM yields 340-350mg of sulphur - and assists in the formation of connective tissue (where degeneration of cartilage is a feature of osteoarthritis). The evidence for MSM alone and combined with glucosamine for osteoarthritis is not too bad at all. I will at this point repeat my well-trodden statement that I do not advocate use of this or any intervention for any condition/ailment/disease without first consulting a medical practitioner. Indeed MSM as an alternative medicine is also finding some favour as a treatment option for a few conditions, including rosacea (combined with silymarin) and more recently experimentally-induced colitis (at least in the rat model).
The reasons given for such possible effects are interesting. Rosacea and colitis share the 'connective tissue' issue (!) with osteoarthritis. Interestingly in the colitis paper, the authors also suggest that MSM seemed to be linked to some quite interesting areas such as specific proinflammatory cytokines and glutathione. It is a little too early to say whether these were direct correlations or something more secondary.
Moving onto autism and the formal evidence base for using MSM in autism is, how can I put this... non-existent. PubMed only holds one article on MSM and autism: this one, whereby they found a signal for MSM in the brain (corroborating the fact that MSM can cross the blood-brain barrier and 'seems' to exert no adverse clinical effect). There is no mention of its effectiveness in autism nor whether it actually does/did improve sulphate levels; a result backed up by the Research Autism entry. There is very little more to be said about MSM at the current time. In order not to exceed my boundaries, I will close up shop on this topic for now.