MSM Helps Sore Muscles

A recent study performed by Ron Riegel, DVM, on 30 racing Standardbreds confirms that the popular nutraceutical supplement MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) can have far-reaching effects on the ability of equine muscle tissue to rebound from exercise stress.

The data, unveiled at the second annual Nutraceutical Alliance conference in Guelph, Ontario, on March 23-24, was gathered, using 30 three- and four-year-old Standardbreds in full race training at an Ohio county fair track. To eliminate other variables in the study, Riegel persuaded trainers to discontinue the use of all injectable and topical medications three weeks prior to beginning the study. This was a tough sell, but necessary because his primary diagnostic technique in assessing each horse's level of soundness and comfort was full-body thermography--a method which scans the horse's body for differences in temperature. Thermography cannot diagnose specific problems--it cannot, for instance, differentiate between a hoof abscess and a fractured coffin bone--but it is a very sensitive method of identifying sites of inflammation (the greater the irritation, the hotter the tissue and the brighter the color on the thermograph).

Riegel separated the horses into three test groups. Group one received no treatment. Group two received 10 grams of MSM daily, and group three received 20 grams of MSM a day (both doses by oral syringe). The horses were examined regularly by thermography for about eight weeks. Riegel also drew blood samples that underwent CBC (complete blood count) and serum chemistry analysis, and tracked their training progress.

The results showed that all of the horses receiving MSM had dramatic improvement in three ways. Thermography showed less inflammation and soreness, particularly through the back and hind end. (The change was faster and more dramatic for the horses on the higher dose.) Additionally, their serum chemistry demonstrated significant drops in two crucial parameters: AST (aspartate aminotransferase) and CK (creatine kinase), tests that indicate metabolites from muscle damage. Finally, all treated horses improved their average training time--group two (the lower dose) by two seconds, and group three by 2.62 seconds.

Riegel concluded that MSM provides significant anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects for horses in hard training. MSM has good palatability and no known side effects. "None of the 30 horses experienced any problems with it--no diarrhea, no allergic reactions, no abnormal blood chemistry," Riegel says. "And while we weren't able to quantify it, the trainers reported that the group three horses had better hair coats, faster, and healthier hoof growth, and quicker recoveries after exercise."

Why does MSM have this impact? While the details aren't yet clear, it is known that MSM is an excellent source of dietary sulfur, a mineral involved in the integrity of collagen, cartilage, hooves, and hair, as well as joint fluid and many important enzymes. Medicinally, organic sulfur inhibits the proliferation of scar tissue and slows neurotransmitters, triggering muscle relaxation. Sulfur is abundant in many feeds, but it's quite unstable, breaking down during most forms of processing (such as drying hay), so MSM may be a handy way of delivering it in a stable, absorbable form.

About the Author

Karen Briggs

Karen Briggs is the author of six books, including the recently updated Understanding Equine Nutrition as well as Understanding The Pony, both published by Eclipse Press. She's written a few thousand articles on subjects ranging from guttural pouch infections to how to compost your manure. She is also a Canadian certified riding coach, an equine nutritionist, and works in media relations for the harness racing industry. She lives with her band of off-the-track Thoroughbreds on a farm near Guelph, Ontario, and dabbles in eventing.

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