A liquid chemical solvent known as dimethyl sulfoxide or DMSO may be a modern day cure-all or a potentially hazardous example of quack medicine. Derived from wood pulp, DMSO was first tested as a possible pharmaceutical drug in the early 1960s. Preliminary test results showed that DMSO had the ability to penetrate organic membranes such as skin tissue, blood vessels and human organs. Because these membranes could be penetrated by DMSO without damage, some researchers believed the chemical compound could be used as a more effective drug delivery system, since pain-killing medicines such as morphine sulfate could be mixed with DMSO and applied to the patient's skin. Other medications could also be piggybacked with DMSO, such as anti-inflammatory or cancer-fighting drugs.
DMSO uses include topical skin treatments, minor muscular ailments and anti-viral applications. Skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, and dermatitis could be treated with regular applications of DMSO. Minor burns and skin rashes are also said to be treatable with DMSO. DMSO has antioxidant properties and is considered a free radical scavenger, which means it has the ability to penetrate cell walls and flood them with oxygen. This action creates a hostile environment for viruses, since they depend on the cells for duplication. Topical skin conditions also benefit from the increase in oxygenation and the elimination of damaging free radicals.
Other DMSO uses are more controversial, but also promising, according to many DMSO proponents. Some claim that DMSO has a positive effect on such painful and debilitating conditions such as scleroderma and arthritis. Because DMSO can penetrate joint tissue and destroy free radicals, it may relieve much of the swelling and pain associated with arthritis. Some studies suggest that arthritis patients who were administered DMSO demonstrated a greater range of motion and significantly less joint pain following treatment. DMSO can also soften collagen, a natural substance which gives skin its elastic qualities. Some scleroderma patients reported shrinking of inflamed tissue after receiving several applications of DMSO. However, the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved the use of DMSO for one condition, interstitial cystitis.
Some DMSO uses are still a source of controversy for proponents and critics alike. DMSO has been used for decades as a liniment for horses, and many human athletes have also been treated with DMSO after suffering muscle cramps or sprained joints. During the 1970s and early 1980s, many people illicitly purchased bottles of DMSO as an alternative cure-all for conditions ranging from cuts and scrapes to advanced forms of cancer. Because industrial grade DMSO was not legally approved for non-prescription human use, many DMSO marketers were investigated and/or prosecuted. Medicinal-grade DMSO can still be obtained from alternative health stores and other online sources. A derivative of DMSO called Methyl Sulfonyl Methane (MSM) is also marketed as a dietary supplement, with its own laundry list of uses and benefits. Because DMSO and MSM are marketed primarily as dietary supplements and not medications, they are not subject to the same scrutiny and regulation of prescription or over-the-counter medicines. It is important for consumers to research a product such as DMSO thoroughly before deciding whether or not to use it for health purposes.