Methyl-sulfonyl-methane, a substance found naturally within the food chain, can help in the equine world of health problems.

The nutrient, which looks and feels like cane sugar and is nearly tasteless, is credited with clearing up epiphysitis in fast-growing yearlings and ameliorating arthritis in geriatric horses. It also has relieved a variety of lamenesses and reduced inflammation and is credited with an ability to increase circulation.

Though MSM has been used on horses for 10 years or more, relatively few horsemen are aware of its existence. It is marketed almost exclusively through veterinarians. Few journals, other than those circulated among the equine medical community have discussed it.

The source of much of the information on what MSM can do for horses is Dr. John Metcalf, a veterinarian in Auburn, Washington. An equine practitioner, Dr. Metcalf has used MSM on Thoroughbreds, hunters, jumpers, show horses, event horses, and even on himself.

Some of the results have been dramatic. A young Thoroughbred filly that was to be inspected in three weeks for a select yearling sale had a severe case of epiphysitis (inflammation in the growth center just above the knee). Dr. Metcalf put the filly on MSM, and by inspection time she was sound and passed the examination. He also can recall situations where trainers and owners talked about a horse that overcame a back or lameness problem alter ingesting MSM in its food. Dr. Metcalf is conducting what to date has been a successful experiment in preventing epiphysitis from developing in overfed yearlings.

"In horses," Dr. Metcalf said, "I use it anywhere that I want to reduce inflammation and enhance circulation. That’s the name of the game in getting repair of an inflamed or damaged part.

Dr. Metcalf said he has recorded a number of successes with MSM in clearing up back problems in horses. These have included, he said, his daughter's jumper and Thoroughbreds on the track, as well as reining horses, event horses, and show horses.

The competitions such horses engage in put severe strain on a horse's back, he explained, and when problems occur they are both hard to diagnose and difficult to treat.

"The sacroiliac area is very deep," he said, "and I don't care what you put on the surface, it's not going to get down to where the problem is. With MSM, you can go through the system. Because it is a natural body component, nothing shows up in the urine. and you can't be accused of giving the horse a drug to kill pain."

His daughter's jumper is a horse that was taken from the track because of chronic muscle soreness. As a jumper he was not happy, frequently traveling with his ears pinned and tail swishing. After a week on MSM, the horse did a turnabout and today is taking the daughter over fences with such success they are among the winners on the show circuit in their area. "I'm sure we have a lot of race horses with sacroiliac problems," he said. "It's like with our lower back. If your have a problem with your lower back, you don't stride right out. You take short steps. It would be the same with a race horse. If he has problems with his back, he isn't going to stride right out, either. When you think of the distance of a mile, one single second is the difference between a nice horse and one that just got beat by one. You shorten his stride just a part of an inch and you are going to get him beat."

Prevention Plus Care
Dr. Metcalf also is of the opinion that MSM has the ability to prevent epiphysitis as well as cure it While he has used MSM with success on a number of young horses suffering from epiphysitis, none was quite so dramatic as the Thoroughbred filly slated for sale inspection.

“You could walk into her stall and just about point your finger at her knee and she'd all but cry out in pain," he said. "It was so painful to her that they could hardly get her to walk out of the stall. The owner told me, 'There's no hurry, Doc, the inspection is three weeks away.' We put her on MSM right away, and she passed that inspection just fine."

In an effort to prove that MSM can prevent as well as cure epiphysitis, Dr. Metcalf is conducting an experiment on two Thoroughbred colts on his own farm. "None of us really knows what all causes epiphysitis," he said. "I know for a fact when you get your calcium and phosphorus out of balance, it can cause it, and I know for a fact that if you overfeed protein, it can cause it."

In his.experiment, Dr. Metcalf is feeding the two colts a diet heavily fortified with protein, but also is giving them two tablespoons of MSM with each feeding. Both have grown rapidly--attaining size in the early stages not consistent with a small dam and relatively small sire. They are now in the middle of their yearling year and to date there has been no sign of epiphysitis.

Dr. Metcalf also has recorded success in using MSM to clear up gastric ulcers in young foals and has discovered it to be beneficial when dealing with other problems of the digestive tract.

A case in point: An Arabian stallion in Georgia developed a case of diarrhea that stubbornly resisted various treatments. Specialists were brought in, but to no avail. The diarrhea continued to debilitate the horse.

The owner happened upon an article Dr. Metcalf had written concerning his work with MSM and called him as a last ditch effort before destroying the horse. Dr. Metcalf shipped her some MSM and the horse was placed on a regimen of receiving it in his grain each feeding. In a matter of days, Dr. Metcalf said, the horse's feces firmed up and in six weeks the horse was doing fine.

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The richest source of MSM, it was discovered in the research, was mother's milk. Thus, babies and little foals are not as likely to suffer from sulfur deficiency. However, adult Thoroughbreds on the track which are fed processed hay and grain, under this theory, are very apt to be sulfur-deficient.

Because of its ability to enhance circulation, Dr. Metcalf is convinced MSM can be an important tool in getting geriatric mares in foal. "We all see these granny mares that shut down on us," he said. "They culture clean, but biopsy bad. We can't get them back in foal. I've been thinking, 'why is this?' I think it has to do with circulation; circulation to the ovaries and circulation to the uterus. Now, if those ovaries aren't functioning properly, the uterus is not going to be a nice place for that baby to settle in. I really think this is a place where MSM can be helpful because of its ability to enhance circulation. I would really like to see a push made (by veterinarians in the field) in this area of treatment to see if we can get those ovaries producing and turning the uterus into a healthy place for the fetus to develop."

Horses given MSM also show a more rapid growth of hoof and a glossier hair coat. MSM also has indicated the ability to kill internal equine parasites. Also, there is the matter of lamenesses that disappear when horses are on MSM. Two national level show horses owned by clients of Dr. Metcalf are sound and able to compete successfully when on MSM. When they are not on it, they show signs of lameness.

In one instance, a Thoroughbred with bad legs won consistently when on MSM, but, when it was not given to him daily, went lame and could not run. Despite all of his successes with MSM, Dr. Metcalf hastens to add that it is not a cure-all. "We can't expect it to be a miracle," he said. "We must determine the cause of discomfort and make sure the cause no longer exists, because no matter what you do, if the cause is still there, when you discontinue treatment the problem is going to return. Obviously, if you have joint chips in a horse's knee, you might get some temporary relief from MSM, but it isn't going to make him sound."


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It has also been discovered in laboratory experiments that MSM could neutralize allergic responses brought about in many instances by the administration of a variety of non-steroidal drugs, such as antibiotics.

Dr. Metcalf has conducted experiments with MSM on horses that demonstrated potential lung problems. He said he has had success in clearing up both lung noises and heaves.

Sulfur in necessary in the body of a horse for just about everything! Including hair, hide, hooves, connective tissue and enzymes, hormones, and immunoglobulins. It has been said that without adequate and properly delivered sulfur, life functions as we know them, would cease. Horses need the sulfur connections in their tissues and with these the horse would be reduced to nothing.

Thus, some of the beneficial aspects of MSM when ingested by horses can be explained by the fact that the body then has the correct balance of sulfur to keep tissues elastic and free.

Humans also report that allergies that are usually severe at certain times of the year, are non-existent while taking the MSM. This has led to the discovery that MSM has, in layman’s terms, a coating action on the entire Gi tract (from the mouth through the small intestine), making it impossible for the allergens to bind and cause their damage.


"I even think it can be beneficial in preventing certain types of bleeding problems in the lungs," Dr. Metcalf said. "If we have a lesion in the lung, it is just waiting for a major expansion of that lung to tear it loose, and then we have bleeding. If we can get rid of that lesion by increasing circulation to the area, such as with MSM, it could break up that lesion and you may be able to prevent that horse from ever being a bleeder. It is not going to stop the mass bleeder but there are many types of bleeders, and I think MSM has a place here."

MSM at very high levels has a very interesting future with a lot of infective diseases. It has been shown to be totally safe for whatever use is desired of it, and the toxicity range is said to be as dangerous as drinking water!* In the equine world, Dr. Metcalf continues to experiment with MSM for a variety of ailments and urges colleagues to do likewise. However, he hastens to point out that his hopes for increased utilization stem only from his desire as a veterinarian to learn more about the potential of an exciting compound.* "When they sell a bag of MSM," he said, "I don't get a nickel." With characteristic tongue-in-cheek wit, Dr. Metcalf said he tried MSM on himself before he gave it to his equine patients "because I wanted to be sure I didn't hurt the horses." He said he had chronic lower back problems for years, but since taking MSM, they have disappeared.

Dr. Metcalf tried MSM in the animal world for arthritis in a dog, instead of a horse, in an initial experiment.* "We had an old dog that was arthritic," he said. "We had her on four Bute tablets a day, and we still had to help her to her feet. We put her on MSM and removed the Bute. Atter a short while on MSM, nobody had to help her to her feet. We got another two years out of that old girl."

In another area, MSM has been used by Dr. Metcalf both as a diagnostic tool and as treatment. Occasionally, he said, there are young horses that suffer a dramatic lack of coordination. It can result, he said, from the wobbler syndrome (impingement of the spinal cord by a malformed cervical vertebra). If it is wobbler syndrome, the work-up to determine it with certainty is expensive and the surgery to correct it is even higher.

However, Dr. Metcalf said, frequently the same symptoms result from damage caused by the herpes virus. In this experience, if the problem has been caused by the herpes virus, it will be cleared up by MSM. If ingestion of MSM shows no results, he said, the problem likely is truly wobbler syndrome and the owner must then opt for the expensive treatment or have the animal destroyed.

His first experience in this field came at Ranier Stable near Auburn prior to the introduction of MSM. A colt demonstrated what appeared to be wobbler syndrome symptoms to the point that the owner decided it should be destroyed. Dr. Metcalf suggested they try intravenous DMSO as a last resort, in case the problem really stemmed from herpes virus damage. The colt snapped out of the problem almost immediately and went on to be a suocessfiil race horse in California. Today, Dr. Metcalf is getting the same results with MSM as he did with DMSO when treating a condition that stems from herpes virus damage.

MSM is sold as a bio-avalable source of nutritional sulfur. It is intended for nutritional use only and no therapeutic claims are made or implied. 



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