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2017 Science of Ingredients: Bergstrom Nutrition/OptiMSM

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Website: www.optimsm.com

Protect Yourself Against the Toll Intense Training Places on the Immune System

Training is a cornerstone of everyday life for fitness enthusiasts. Though moderate exercise enhances the immune system, overtraining ironically can lead to a weakened immune system resulting in poor health and lackluster performance. A strong immune system supports an active, healthy lifestyle. Whereas even temporary immune suppression may lead to higher incidents of illness, fatigue, and delayed recovery time—ultimately leading to missed training opportunities.

Excessive training can deplete critical nutrients and accelerate cellular fatigue. Recent research demonstrates overtraining can also lead to temporary immune suppression. But keep in mind that suppressed immunity is a normal result of body fatigue, not a disease or abnormal condition—weakened immune defenses can happen to any overtaxed individual.

One 2007 study showed elite athletes were twice as likely to have a respiratory incident than sedentary individuals and four times more likely than recreational athletes.1 Another study suggested intense training and competition in elite athletes led to an elevated risk of upper respiratory illness (URI) that remained higher for a few weeks after a long-distance race. The conclusion was that increased exertion has a detrimental effect on the immune system, compared to moderate exercise, which can lead to positive changes in immune function.2

How much exercise causes immune suppression?

A recent study found immune suppression after a few types of training habits: relatively long workouts of 1.5 hours or more without refueling, high intensity (but not extremely difficult) exercise sessions, or insufficient recovery time between workouts.3

Can overtraining suppress the immune system?

Exhaustive exercise depresses the immune system in several ways. It increases stress hormone levels, specifically norepinephrine and cortisol, which both suppress the immune system.4 Excessive training also depletes glutathione, an internal antioxidant that plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy immune system.5 Inflammation and oxidative stress induced by exhaustive exercise can temporarily deplete normal reactions of the critical inflammation response leading to a weakened reaction to pathogens or damage.6

Our bodies have natural defenses that neutralize free radicals, fight infections and protect from damage, but too much training can overtake these defenses, resulting in fatigue, increased illness, and low-energy exercise sessions. However, vigorous training is necessary for optimal performance in competitive athletes.

What may support the immune system and strengthen defenses after intensive training?

A widely utilized ingredient in joint health products, MSM (methylsulfonylmethane), may provide the support athletes need. A recent study using OptiMSM, a well-researched branded form of MSM, reported immune-modulating after exhaustive exercise. Participants taking OptiMSM showed lower serum levels of inflammatory markers post-exercise compared to placebo. However, when exposed to the pathogenic molecule LPS, participants’ blood samples experienced a different response—the placebo group had a blunted immune response while the MSM group responded normally. This response indicated MSM conserved a healthy immune system after physical stress.7 Another study showed OptiMSM’s ability to improve the health of both upper respiratory and lower respiratory systems.8

OptiMSM is manufactured in the U.S. by Bergstrom Nutrition and is recognized by the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) as GRAS (generally recognized as safe). OptiMSM has also been tested and found to be free of banned substances.

Are there other benefits of MSM besides for joints and the immune system?

MSM has several other benefits including reduced soreness, increased mobility and improved skin health, all of which are detailed in a recent review article in the journal Nutrients.9 Mechanistically, MSM has antioxidant properties, reduces inflammatory markers, and supplies sulfur to the body. Unlike direct antioxidants, it does not directly scavenge free radicals. Instead, it decreases the production of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (RONS) and bolsters the body’s natural antioxidant pathways, including glutathione and SOD.10–12 Glutathione and SOD levels are directly related to immune health, and depleted levels are associated with increased infections and a broad range of health issues.13 MSM not only helps the body reduce oxidative damage and inflammation, but it also works to maintain a healthy immune response.

By supplementing with MSM, athletes or weekend warriors can support a healthy and active immune system and continue to train at high levels while preserving and protecting the body from a multitude of issues that can interrupt fitness routines. The numerous benefits of MSM make it a compelling choice for athletes and fitness enthusiasts, as well as for individuals taking their initial steps toward an active lifestyle.


1 Spence L, Brown WJ, Pyne DB, et al. Incidence, etiology, and symptomatology of upper respiratory illness in elite athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007;39(4):577-586. doi:10.1249/mss.0b013e31802e851a.

2 Nieman DC. Exercise, upper respiratory tract infection, and the immune system. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1994;26(2):128-139. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8164529. Accessed August 19, 2016.

3 Gleeson M. Immune function in sport and exercise. J Appl Physiol. 2007;103:693-699. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00008.2007.

4 Moynihan JA, Callahan TA, Kelley SP, Campbell LM. Adrenal Hormone Modulation of Type 1 and Type 2 Cytokine Production by Spleen Cells: Dexamethasone and Dehydroepiandrosterone Suppress Interleukin-2, Interleukin-4, and Interferon-γ Production in Vitro. Cell Immunol. 1998;184(1):58-64. doi:10.1006/cimm.1998.1259.

5 Dröge W, Breitkreutz R. Glutathione and immune function. Proc Nutr Soc. 2000;59:595-600.

6 Niess AM, Dickhuth HH, Northoff H, Fehrenbach E. Free radicals and oxidative stress in exercise–immunological aspects. Exerc Immunol Rev. 1999;5:22-56. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10519061. Accessed August 19, 2016.

7 Van Der Merwe M, Bloomer RJ. The Influence of Methylsulfonylmethane on Inflammation-Associated Cytokine Release before and following Strenuous Exercise. J Sports Med. 2016;2016. doi:10.1155/2016/7498359.

8 Barrager E, Veltmann JR, Schauss AG, Schiller RN. A multicentered, open-label trial on the safety and efficacy of methylsulfonylmethane in the treatment of seasonal allergic rhinitis. J Altern Complement Med. 2002;8(2):167-173. doi:10.1089/107555302317371451.

9 Butawan M, Benjamin R, Bloomer R. Methylsulfonylmethane: Applications and Safety of a Novel Dietary Supplement. Nutrients. 2017;9(3):290. doi:10.3390/nu9030290.

10 Nakhostin-Roohi B, Barmaki S, Khoshkhahesh F, Bohlooli S. Effect of chronic supplementation with methylsulfonylmethane on oxidative stress following acute exercise in untrained healthy men. J Pharm Pharmacol. 2011;63(10):1290-1294. doi:10.1111/j.2042-7158.2011.01314.x.

11 Marañón G, Muñoz-escassi B, Manley W, et al. The effect of methyl sulphonyl methane supplementation on biomarkers of oxidative stress in sport horses following jumping exercise. Acta Vet Scand. 2008;50(45). doi:10.1186/1751-0147-50-45.

12 Mohammadi S, Najafi M, Hamzeiy H, et al. Protective effects of methylsulfonylmethane on hemodynamics and oxidative stress in monocrotaline-induced pulmonary hypertensive rats. Adv Pharmacol Sci. 2012;2012. doi:10.1155/2012/507278.

13 Uttara B, Singh AV, Zamboni P, Mahajan RT. Oxidative stress and neurodegenerative diseases: a review of upstream and downstream antioxidant therapeutic options. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2009;7(1):65-74. doi:10.2174/157015909787602823.

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