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DMSO: Benefits, Risks and Research


The story of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) is an unusual one. This by-product of the paper making process was discovered in Germany in the late 19th century. It’s a colorless liquid that gained notoriety for its ability to penetrate skin and other biological membranes.

Scientists discovered that they could use DMSO as a transportation device to pass small molecules through skin. Since then, scientists have researched the potential benefits and risks of using DMSO to treat a variety of conditions. This research is ongoing.

Some doctors began to use DMSO to treat cases of skin inflammation and diseases such as scleroderma because of its ability to penetrate skin. Scleroderma is a rare disorder that causes your skin to harden.

Some studies have found that DMSO may also be useful for treating certain side effects of chemotherapy, reports the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC). Specifically, DMSO may help treat chemotherapy extravasations.

This condition occurs when the drugs used to treat cancer leak and become trapped in surrounding tissues. It can cause symptoms that include:

  • tingling
  • burning
  • pain
  • swelling
  • redness at your chemotherapy injection site.

If left untreated, it can lead to blistering, ulcers, and tissue death.

Preliminary research evidence reported in PLOS ONE also suggests that DMSO might be effective for treating Alzheimer’s disease, a condition with no known cure.

According to MSKCC, some researchers suggests that DMSO might also be useful for:

  • reducing pain and inflammation caused by arthritis
  • treating bladder pain and inflammation
  • slowing the progression of cancer

However, more research is needed to assess the potential benefits and risks of using DMSO to treat these conditions. To date, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has officially approved the use of DMSO in humans for only one purpose: to treat interstitial cystitis.

This is a chronic condition that causes inflammation in your bladder. To treat it, your doctor may flush DMSO into your bladder using a catheter over several of weeks. It’s also available in pill form and as a topical lotion, but these formulations are not approved for use by the FDA.

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While DMSO has been approved for a variety of uses in dogs and horses, interstitial cystitis remains its only FDA-approved use in humans. This reflects concerns over potential toxicities, reports MSKCC.

The use of DMSO in animals has been linked to changes to their eye lenses. This has raised concerns about the potential of DMSO to damage human eyes. More research is needed to assess these risks.

Other reported side effects from DMSO tend to be minor. The most commonly reported side effect is a strong garlic flavor in your mouth for several hours after you have been treated with it. Your skin may also give off a garlic-like odor for up to 72 hours after being treated.

Doctors agree that you should be cautious when it comes to applying DMSO topically. It may cause dry, scaly, and itchy skin. It may also interact with other medications. Unhealthy substances may also be absorbed through your skin along with the DMSO. And it may also cause urine discoloration and agitation.

DMSO has only been approved by the FDA in the United States to treat interstitial cystitis. But we probably haven’t heard the last of it. DMSO may have promise in treating a variety of other conditions that include:

  • arthritis
  • cancer
  • chemotherapy
  • extravasations
  • Alzheimer’s disease

However, research to date has been inconsistent. More research on its potential uses will likely continue for years to come.

Talk to your doctor before using any products that contain DMSO. They can help you understand the potential benefits and risks.

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