Health Notes

The Biochemical Oxygen Transport Pair

by David W. Gregg, Ph.D.
188 Calle La Montana
Moraga, CA 94556
Phone/Fax (925) 284-5434
October, 1998

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This paper is for information only. It represents the observations, views and opinions of the author, but is not a recommendation for treatment. Anyone reading it should consult his/her physician before considering treatment.

DMSO is a widely used commercial solvent derived from trees (living plants) as a byproduct from the production of paper.  There are so many claimed health benefits from its use, one has to wonder if it doesn’t perform a similar vital function in the biochemistry of plants. If so, it may be no accident that it can provide such broad ranging health benefits to us. It has been written up in many places such as the recent book “DMSO, Nature’s Healer” by Dr. Morton Walker (1993), and by Dr. Julian Whitaker in his newsletter “Health and Healing” in the August, 1995 issue.  It is sold in many if not most health food stores in the US and in most countries around the world. Apparently it is used by millions of people for its health benefit properties. I have also found it has a profound beneficial effect in the treatment of Crohn’s Disease as discussed in an earlier Health Note. It is commonly used for treating animals, horses in particular, but the FDA has approved it for only one use for humans, the treatment of interstitial cystitis. Since so many people use it anyway, this has made it a controversial subject. Possibly one reason for this is that no one has ever explained how it works biochemically. If that can be done, it should take it out of the controversial “magic” health benefit classification, and put it on a sound technical foundation. It is the purpose of this Health Note to present my new insight/views into that needed description of the primary biochemical function of DMSO in combination with its spontaneously created oxidized form, MSM.

In the Health Note for Crohn’s Disease I describe a mechanism where the DMSO stimulates a mechanism that enhances the transport of iron from the intestine to the rest of the cells in the body.  This is a very specialized mechanism, which is not the primary health benefit mechanism that will be discussed here. The primary mechanism discussed here is how I believe DMSO, in combination with its spontaneously generated oxidized form, MSM, act as an antioxidant pair, in the same sense as I discuss other antioxidants in the previous Health Note, in other words the biochemistry of how DMSO and MSM act together to enhance metabolism.

Oxidation States of DMSO
In the body, DMSO can and does take three different oxidation states. It is useful to think of them as being in equilibrium, with the distribution between them at any point being determined by the localized conditions that exist within the cells. The first oxidation state is DMSO itself which has one oxygen atom attached to the sulfur atom. The other two are 1) dimethyl sulfone, also known as methlysulfonylmethane (MSM), which is DMSO with an additional oxygen atom attached to the sulfur atom, forming a molecule with a total of two attached oxygen atoms, and 2) dimethyl sulfide which is DMSO with the oxygen atom removed, forming a molecule with no oxygen’s attached. Both DMSO and MSM have the property of being quite soluble in both oil and water based liquids. However, dimethyl sulfide is hydrophobic and tends to be insoluble in water and soluble in oil based liquids.

It should be mentioned here that dimethyl sulfone, the oxidized form of DMSO, is just the more commonly used chemical name for methlysulfonylmethane (MSM) which is now readily available in health foods stores, and which many claim to greatly enhance energy. According to my theory presented here, DMSO and MSM, which form each other in the body, should be essentially indistinguishable in their biochemical effects. They reach a equilibrium distribution between them that is dependent on the local body chemistry, and is independent of which one you start with.

The Metabolic Enhancement (Antioxidant) Mechanism of the DMSO-MSM Pair
The metabolic enhancement mechanism of DMSO (or MSM) is that of an exceptionally effective oxygen transport system. This transport system involves only two of the three oxidation forms, DMSO and dimethyl sulphone (also known as MSM). If we consider both DMSO and MSM coexisting in equilibrium within the body, (as they always would no matter which you started with) and recognizing that different parts of the body have different oxidation potentials. Then, as the combination is exposed to a zone of high oxidation potential, DMSO is oxidized to MSM resulting in a new distribution of DMSO and MSM which is higher in MSM. Then as the combination moves to a zone of lower oxidation potential, the MSM releases its oxygen, delivering it to the metabolic processes, resulting in a new distribution that is higher in DMSO again.

The cycle then repeats itself and in doing so, serves as an exceptionally effective oxygen transport system. This system could be operative on a macro scale, enhancing the transport of oxygen from the lungs to the blood, from the blood to the cells, and on a micro scale within the cells transporting high oxidation potential to the lower oxidation potential of the mitochondria where it is used in metabolism. We have a continuously decreasing oxidation potential starting highest at the entry point, the lungs, lower in the blood, lower yet as it enters the cells, continuously lowered in the sequences of the metabolic reactions, and finally lowest of all as it is excreted as carbon dioxide and water, the products of metabolism. The DMSO-MSM system of transport will operate only at the front end, delivering oxygen to the mitochondria. It is unlikely that it will play a significant role after the oxygen has been delivered to the mitochondria and the complex metabolic reaction sequences start.

This system is made particularly effective by the feature that both DMSO and MSM are highly soluble in both oil and water. They are also small molecules that will diffuse rapidly. Thus, they both easily and rapidly diffuse through the hydrophilic cell cytoplasm as well as the hydrophobic cell membranes. They have no barriers. To my knowledge, we have no other molecules naturally occurring in our bodies quite like this. Oxygen transport is handled by passing it between different molecules that are hydrophilic in the cytoplasm and hydrophobic in the cell membranes. (Actually, this is handled in part by the transport of free electrons, which can be the equivalent of oxidation potential.)

Since we obtain DMSO from a plant source, do plants use it this way? More importantly, is it an important, but unrecognized component we obtain from eating plants that greatly assists our metabolism? It may be no accident that the body develops a garlic smell when one uses DMSO. Could the breakdown of known active components in garlic be a potent plant source of DMSO, which would explain some of the greatly touted health benefits of garlic? These are unanswered but reasonable questions.

The “Garlic” Body & Breath Odor from Dimethyl Sulfide Derived from DMSO
The elimination of DMSO and MSM happens not only by excretion in the urine and feces but also by elimination through the lungs and skin in the form of dimethyl sulfide. When DMSO gives up its oxygen atom it forms dimethyl sulfide which is hydrophobic.  Because of its hydrophobic property, it will concentrate not only in the cell membranes but also in the interior regions of the hemoglobin molecule. The exterior of the hemoglobin molecule is hydrophilic and thus can “dissolve” in a aqueous media and be carried in the blood. However, the interior is hydrophobic. Any dimethyl sulfide that is formed will eventually migrate to the interior of the hemoglobin molecule and as such be transported everywhere in the blood. However, it has a high vapor pressure so anywhere the blood vessels come in close contact with air, such as in the lungs and skin, there will be a tendency for the dimethyl sulfide to evaporate off and be released. In this way we get both the “garlic” breath and the “garlic” body odor.

In theory, there is another option for the dimethyl sulfide. When it is transported to the lungs where you have the highest oxidation potential, it could be oxidized back to DMSO, go back into solution, and not be released as dimethyl sulfide to the breath. Does this also happen? I believe it does. However, the conversion is not complete and can vary from one individual to the next and from one time to the next for a particular individual. I have encountered some evidence of this happening.  Specifically, ill people using DMSO have evidenced a particularly bad breath, as noticed by other family members, and this diminishes greatly as they get well. This opens the possibility of using this as a diagnostic tool of the oxidation potential of the blood in the lungs if it is quantified. Making a quantitative analysis of dimethyl sulfide in the breath is an easy task with the right equipment. However, relating this to disease states requires a systematic study that has not been done yet.  Hopefully, this preliminary observation will stimulate some new research.

A calculation
In my readings I discovered that MSM has been measured to occur naturally in our bodies (blood) at a concentration of approximately 0.2 parts per million. I decided to do a calculation. As oxygen is transported from our lungs to the mitochondria, it goes through a number of stages with continually decreasing oxidation potential (effective oxygen concentration).  This is reported as oxygen partial pressures in mm mercury (mmHg). When it gets to the final storage location in the cells, the myoglobin, the partial pressure is approximately 40 mmHg. I decided to calculate the concentration of oxygen in water (the primary component of the cytoplasm) at this partial pressure. It turns out to be approximately 0.2 parts per million, the same as the natural occurrence of MSM.

This is very exciting because it opens up the question as to whether the oxygen transport mechanism presented here hasn’t always been operating as part of our oxygen transport system and has gone totally unrecognized. It could also explain why the mitochondria have little difficulty using it. They always have.  It would also say that even a large, 200+ pound man would have a total amount of only 0.02 grams in his body and this could still be effective as a significant part of the oxygen transport system. Thus, it is no wonder that an amount of DMSO no larger than a eyedropper full (a few grams) could produce a large enhancement of a person’s oxygen transport system.

The Biochemical Reasons for the Health Benefits of DMSO (or MSM)
Within an individual cell, the oxygen transport system will work to smooth-out differences in oxygen potentials between different organelles lowering the potential for damage in some while making more oxygen available to the mitochondria for metabolism. Of course, the mitochondria has to be able to use the oxygen effectively, which means the multitude of reaction systems employed by the metabolic process must be able to utilize the oxygen. As discussed in the “Antioxidant” Health Note, these reactions are promoted by enzymes supported by a wide range of other antioxidants. Thus, the DMSO-MSM transport system will provide additional energy only if the rest of the system can accept the increased oxygen availability. When they are all working together (as a complete, matched set), I believe that we are looking at a remedy for many degenerative diseases.

A First-Line Treatment for A Multitude of Medical Diseases/Disorders
Once it is understood that DMSO (& MSM) acts as a profoundly effective oxygen transport system, this opens up the opportunity to use this information to treat a multitude of medical disorders, immediate and long term that are caused by a deficiency of oxygen transport. As one example, it has been reported that DMSO is greatly helpful in minimizing the damage from a traumatic brain injury due to a blow to the head or a stroke. Now the explanation as to why it helps is clear. Brain cells, more than any other cells in the body can not tolerate a lack of oxygen for an extended period of time. The DMSO will enhance oxygen transport to the brain cells until there is sufficient healing to where blood flow and the conventional oxygen transport system is reestablished.

Personal Experience
As a personal experience, a few months ago I decided to try using DMSO to see if it would help remedy my swollen prostate, (something that is common for someone my age). I had a jar of jelled DMSO and spread a liberal amount on my abdomen over my prostate gland. There seemed to be considerable improvement in my prostate (reduction in swelling), but more relevant to this discussion, I went to play tennis a few hours after applying it, and I felt a very large increase in energy and agility over what I was used to. I have repeated this a number of times since with the same result. Is this a validation of the theory of energy enhancement presented above? I am only one person and thus do not represent a reasonable test. However, I am convinced it does work for me, and it is not just a placebo effect.

Potential for Allergic Reaction
As with almost anything, some people are allergic to DMSO, so caution should be exercised in its initial use to test this possibility. Start with one drop and if there is any allergic reaction, don’t use it at all. Consult with your physician on this issue.
I have wondered why there can be an allergic reaction to such a small molecule and concluded that the most likely answer is that reactive sites that can bond with oxygen may also bond with some protein molecules in the body, forming new molecules that invoke an immunological (allergic) reaction.

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David W. Gregg, Ph.D.
188 Calle La Montana
Moraga, CA 94556
Phone/Fax (925) 284-5434
Send e-mail to David Gregg at

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