In the quest for healthy hair, people often explore various supplements like biotin, rosemary oil, and others as natural hair loss treatments. One such supplement that flies below the radar of most is methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), a sulfur-containing compound known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Some research has demonstrated that sulfur-containing supplements may not only slow hair loss but also expedite the re-growth of hair that has been lost. However, before you try it, you must know who would experience the best results with MSM, as well as possible cautions and concerns.
Understanding Hair Growth Cycles
Your hair is continuously growing, resting, and shedding. There are three distinct phases to the lifecycle of hair.
1 Anagen phase (growing phase)
During this phase, which is the longest in the hair growth cycle, your follicles are busy growing hair. Hair is getting longer and thicker. During this phase, your hair grows at about 1 centimeter each month. The anagen phase lasts between 3 and 7 years. For healthy people who are not balding, up to 95% of your hair follicles are in the anagen phase. Drugs like Minoxidil work by prolonging the time your hair is in the anagen growth phase.
2 Catagen phase (temporary slowing down of hair growth)
When hair follicles are no longer growing hair, the hair begins shedding. This usually lasts for between 7 to 14 days, after which hair returns to the more desirable anagen phase. Fortunately for most people, only about 5% of their hair is in the catagen phase at any given time.
3 Telogen phase (resting phase)
During the telogen phase, hairs are fully formed but are no longer growing. Appropriately, 10% to 14% of your hairs are in the telogen phase at any moment. Contrary to popular belief, hair in the telogen phase does not lead to balding because this phase only lasts for between 3 and 4 months.
Exogen phase (shedding phase)
The exogen phase is sometimes considered to be a part of the telogen phase because as hair growth temporarily rests, it sometimes sheds and thins naturally. Excessing brushing and other mechanical stresses such as shampooing and heat can lead to loss of hair during this time. As a rule, healthy people lose about 125 hairs per day during the exogen phase.
What Is Telogen Effluvium?
Telogen effluvium is one of the most common causes of short-term hair loss and is experienced by people who are under emotional and physical stress. Hair that is normally growing (anagen phase) begins to enter the resting stage (telogen phase) before its usual time. This can lead to diffuse hair loss.
While during normal telogen cycle, only 10% to 14% of your hair is lost, those with telogen effluvium hair loss can lead to excessive shedding of over 30%. Some people may even see handfuls of up to 300 hairs per day shedding off of their heads, mostly at the top of the scalp.
While men can experience telogen effluvium, it is more common in women. Telogen effluvium usually reverses itself after 3 to 6 months. This means telogen effluvium is not the same thing as the more serious androgenic alopecia, which leads to permanent hair loss.
What Causes Telogen Effluvium
There are many factors that can trigger telogen effluvium, ranging from surgery and fever to psychological stress. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can trigger it, too, as can some medications. Halting the use of birth control pills has also been reported to cause it too. Here is a summary of some of the provokers:
- Deficiencies in dietary protein, iron, zinc, or B vitamins
- Rapid weight loss
- Emotional stress
- Some medications (e.g., chemotherapy agents)
- Autoimmune conditions
- Excessive hair styling or exposure to heat
What Is Methylsulfonylmethane?
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a naturally occurring substance derived from dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) and is also found in some foods. While animal research suggests consuming a high-fiber diet may impact MSM levels through changes in the gut microbiome, it is unknown if this occurs in humans. Thus, it is not believed humans are able to produce MSM naturally; this sulfur-containing substance is, however, found in various foods, including fruits, vegetables, coffee, and tea, as well as dietary supplements.
When consumed by humans, MSM accumulates over time. The longer it is ingested regularly, the more it builds up in the body.
Methylsulfonylmethane provides a source of sulfur, which the body uses to make the amino acids methionine and cysteine. Cysteine, in particular, is very important for the production of keratin, which is found in high concentrations in hair, skin, and nails.
Aging is associated with reduced MSM synthesis.
Can MSM Help Hair Loss? The Proof
The clinical study that stunned everyone involved 41 men and women with telogen effluvium hair loss. They were given 1000 mg of an MSM supplement for four months, either with or without food. Before and after tests of the people revealed the following:
- 93% of the people taking MSM supplements reported noticing brand-new hair growth after an average of 45 days of daily use.
- 83% of reported noticing less hair loss after 120 days; over 75% noticed improvements after just 45 days.
- 67% report improvements in the density of hair after 120 days.
- The density of thicker, terminal hairs increases by 50% after 45 days. This improved to 82% after 120 days.
- 85% of people reported improved hair strength after 45 days. About 88% reported improvements after 120 days of MSM use.
- Before and after pictures also revealed visible differences, too. Those taking the supplement had more coverage on their scalps.
While these results are impressive, one downside was that there was no placebo group. Another potential drawback is the principal researcher is employed by the company that makes the supplement. That said, the study appears to be well done.
Any Other Hair Growth Proof For MSM?
Topical MSM lotion has been shown in one study to reduce hair loss when it was applied to the skin of laboratory animals (mice). Whether this means methylsulfonylmethane solutions would be, a natural hair loss prevention treatment for people needs more study.
What MSM Supplement Improved Hair Growth?
The researchers used a dietary supplement called OpiMSM, which is produced by the Balchem Corporation. OpiMSM is a popular dietary ingredient that is found in many supplements by itself and alongside other ingredients. Many of the supplements it is incorporated in are marketed to help arthritis.
This supplement can be purchased by itself. Avoid supplements where MSM is part of a proprietary blend because you may not be getting enough to make a difference.
The OpiMSM supplement is not expensive, so pricey brands of supplements are superior.
How Does MSM Help Hair Growth?
There are several possible reasons MSM may help support healthy hair growth. They include:
- Hair is composed of up to 95% keratin. Keratin is rich in a sulfur-containing amino acid called cysteine. This means healthy hair requires sulfur to stay strong. MSM provides a source of sulfur the body can use.
- MSM may reduce inflammation in hair follicles. MSM has also been shown to reduce NF-kB, which triggers inflammation.
- MSM has antioxidant effects that counteract the oxidative stress of free radicals, which contribute to hair follicle damage.
- MSM fosters the production of the amino acid cysteine. Cysteine, in turn, raises the production of N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a potent augmenter of glutathione synthesis
MSM & Hair Growth: Before & After Pictures
MSM Side Effects, Concerns and Cautions
Methylsulfonylmethane is usually considered safe. In fact, the supplement used in this study (OpiMSM) is recognized by the FDA as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) in humans. Reported side effects are rare and include stomach cramps, insomnia, headaches, nausea, and bloating. Not everyone experiences side effects.
Suggestions to reduce the risk of adverse reactions include the following:
- Start with less than suggested for at least the first week. Give your body time to adjust to this new supplement you are taking.
- Both UV light and heat can break down MSM. Avoid supplements that are sold in transparent containers.
- Stop taking MSM at least two weeks before surgery due to possible blood thinning effects.
- Speak to your doctor if you take blood thinners or other medications.
What Foods Contain MSM?
While the research appears to show MSM supplements help hair health, what about foods? Methylsulfonylmethane is found in green vegetables as well as cow's milk, nuts and seeds, turkey, fish, and chicken.
|Amount of MSM (per 3.5 oz/100 g)
|Beef & chicken
|Salmon & tuna
While foods contain MSM, it does not have much. For example, you would have to eat over 4 pounds (67 oz) of chicken to consume the 1000 mg of MSM shown to restore hair growth in people with telogen effluvium. That is not sustainable. MSM may also be lost during food processing. Thus, supplements make more sense.
MSM For Hair Growth: The Verdict
The research appears to show MSM supplements are effective for some people who are dealing with balding caused by stress-induced hair loss (telogen effluvium). This is very encouraging; however, more research is warranted. Definitive evidence is also needed to determine if methylsulfonylmethane helps other common forms of hair loss, such as androgenic alopecia. That said, MSM is safe, and if it truly works, you may start to see a restoration of hair growth in less than two months.