People in search of relief from the debilitating illness called arthritis have tried many remedies, some that are marketed currently without FDA testing or approval. DMSO is such a remedy.
Reports from several studies indicate that DMSO alters the effectiveness of commonly-prescribed arthritis drugs. Tests in rats and in human subjects reveal that DMSO interferes with the way sulindac (.Clinoril) and other nonsteroidal drugs are broken down by the body.
DMSO, dimethyl sulfoxide, was developed in the early 1960s as a byproduct of the wood manufacturing process. It has been advocated as a treatment for arthritis, sprains, black eyes, and other wide-ranging conditions, but the FDA stopped testing it in 1965 because the drug caused cataracts in the eyes of rats. Since then, however, DMSO has been distributed in mail order houses, on street corners, and in health food stores as a home remedy, despite the FDA's efforts to stop these sales.
DMSO can be obtained in strengths from 50-100%. The 50% solution is approved for the treatment of interstitial cystitis, a painful bladder disease, in humans. A 90% solution is approved for veterinary use and a 100% solution is used as an industrial solvent for removing paint and grease. These 90 and 100% solutions are available to the public although they are not manufactured to the purity of human medications. This is a cause of concern to the medical community.
Another problem is that even the weaker solutions contain impurities that can be absorbed into the bloodstream and carried through the body. Although meant only for topical administration, some people are drinking it or injecting it intravenously. Intravenous injection of DMSO can cause severe liver damage.
Lately, the FDA has lifted the ban on the testing of DMSO and now has over B0 applications from drug companies and physicians to conduct studies of the substance in the treatment of several painful conditions, including osteoarthritis. Initial studies will be limited to acute injuries that require only short periods of treatment to keep the risk of side effects low. If these studies are encouraging, testing will continue in chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
It is known that DMSO has painkilling abilities that equal aspirin's, but without the important ability to control inflammation. However, a group of major arthritis centers are conducting a cooperative study of the effect of the drug on finger ulcers in scleroderma. This study is sponsored by the National Institute of Arthritis, Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a division of the National Institutes of Health. Until full scientific evidence regarding the use of DMSO is obtained, however, researchers warn of possible health dangers.
Two other nonsteroidal drugs have found their way into the FDA testing system. Both have similar properties and are alike in safety and effectiveness. They reduce pain and inflammation like aspirin, but have less potential for side effects.
Piroxicam is in its final stages of development by Pfizer as a once-a-day drug. Auronofin, a form of oral gold, is currently being tested by SmithKline as a further development of the gold salt injections that have been used to treat arthritis for about 50 years. The FDA has not released approval on either drug yet.