Three naturally occurring chemical compounds, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), have potential benefits as supplements for individuals with RA.

As with all supplements, whether vitamins, minerals, herbal or chemical products, consult with your doctor before you start taking DHEA, DMSO, or MSM. There may be health risks associated with use of these chemicals, including interactions with medications that you are taking and negative effects associated with health conditions you may have. Your doctor is also in the best position to determine the proper and safe dosage for any supplement.



First identified in 1934, DHEA is an endogenous (this means produced in the body) steroid produced by the adrenal gland that plays a role in a broad range of biological functions in the body. DHEA is used within the body to produce male and female sex hormones (androgens and estrogens, respectively). DHEA has been referred to as a “super hormone” in the popular press. It was banned by US collegiate and international athletic associations due to its potential for increasing levels of hormones.1

DHEA has been found to be effective as an adjunctive treatment (this means a treatment that is secondary to a main treatment) for adrenal insufficiency, obesity, depression, and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), as well as for inducing labor in pregnant women. Additionally, there is some evidence that DHEA may be beneficial in improving bone density.1

Some studies have reported low levels of DHEA sulfate in patients with RA and juvenile RA. However, a limited number of studies have evaluated DHEA as a treatment for RA. In one study in elderly patients with RA, DHEA supplementation resulted in decreased production of select immune system chemicals. However, DHEA did not result in significant changes in RA symptoms or disease activity. Overall, there has been too little research to make any definitive conclusions about the potential usefulness of DHEA in RA.1

DHEA should be used with caution in patients with adrenal or thyroid disorders, as well as in patients taking anticoagulants or medications or supplements used to treat diabetes, heart disease, seizures, or stroke. Women who are pregnant or nursing should avoid using DHEA. Because of the risk for increased bleeding, DHEA should be discontinued for 2 weeks before and after surgery.2

As a supplement, DHEA is available in a variety of products including Natural DHEA (Nature’s Bounty), PatentLEAN (PatentHealth), Inspired by Nature DHEA (Puritan’s Pride).1



DMSO is an organic compound that occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables, grains, and select animal products. It was first produced as a byproduct of paper manufacturing in the mid-1800s and is a powerful solvent with the ability to penetrate plant and animal tissues.3

DMSO is used as a topical analgesic to block pain signals. In a randomized, controlled trial conducted in patients with RA, DMSO applied as a topical gel resulted in significant reduction in pain.3

In some people, DMSO can cause inflammation and redness of the skin. DMSO should be avoided if you are hypersensitive or allergic to it. Women who are pregnant or nursing should avoid using DMSO. It should be used with caution in individuals with decreased liver or kidney function or cancers of the urinary tract. Topical DMSO use has been reported to cause a strong garlic-like taste and unpleasant breath.2,3



MSM is a natural, sulfur-containing compound found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and animal products that was first isolated in the 1980s. Heating, processing, or storage of foods results in the loss of MSM. MSM is an oxidative product of DMSO (this means MSM is produced when DMSO is exposed to oxygen). MSM is recognized as a potent antioxidant and has been shown to be effective for the relief of inflammation and pain associated with osteoarthritis. In studies conducted in osteoarthritis it was given orally at daily doses ranging from 1,500 mg to 6,000 mg (divided into 2 or 3 doses). Despite evidence of its analgesic and anti-inflammatory benefit in osteoarthritis, there is currently no evidence supporting the benefit of MSM in RA. MSM should be avoided if it results in hypersensitivity reaction or allergy. It should also be avoided pregnant and nursing women.2,4

Written by: Jonathan Simmons | Last reviewed: September 2013.
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