DMSO and Its Anti Radiation Properties


Dimethyl Sulfoxide, DMSO, entitled the ‘wonder drug’ not by extensive marketing efforts, but by the testimonies of people who have witnessed the benefit of the chemical itself. The history of its nature and how it finds its way into medical application is a story worth sharing. It was first identified as a by – product of Kraft – pulping in the wood industry in 1867 by a Russian scientist, Alexander Zaytsev. Since 1953, its industrial usage continued to increase mainly as a commercial solvent. Ever since, approximately 40,000 articles of DMSO chemistry has appeared in many scientific journals.

Dimethyl Sulfoxide is a colorless liquid, with some described as giving off garlic like smell. Its entrance into medical world began as a preservative for transplantation organs. In 1961, a physician by the name of Stanley Jacob M.D., a former head of the organ transplant program at Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland, observed that DMSO exhibited unique characteristics. It was readily absorbed by human skin. Driven by curiosity of its effect on human health, he found out that the chemical did perform medical wonders. It alleviated pain, reduced inflammation, and improved healing in many medical conditions. Words of mouth spread, and the media blew it up, the substance gained traction and attract attention worldwide into its medical application. Up to date, approximately 11,000 articles have been published on Dimethyl Sulfoxide, DMSO, medical properties. Studies on its toxicology help determine the safe therapeutic level. So far, none serious side effect other than allergic reaction has been reported, and the chemical has benefited large audience.

DMSO is like the aspirin of the medical world. The latter cures headache, reduces fever, alleviates pain, and protects the cardiovascular systems from the devastating thromboembolic event. Likewise, DMSO readily absorbed by human skin, passes through membranes, and exhibit analgesic activity. Report on its analgesic action is almost immediate. It relieves the patient from pain almost instantly. Not only does it reduce pain, DMSO also reduces inflammation. In 1978, at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Cleveland, Ohio, 213 patients with inflammatory genitourinary disorders were given DMSO, and majority reported significant relief. The same result was reported in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. If any side effect reported, majority would be the garlic odor. Its medical applications did not stop at just as an analgesic, anti – inflammatory, but expanded – and will continually do so in the future – into accelerated healing effect in Central Nervous System Trauma. DMSO had shown consistent result in lowering intracranial pressure, stabilizing blood pressure, and increasing blood flow to injured area, promoting increased healing rate. Its usage has expanded into stroke patients, where DMSO shows promising clot dissolving activity. Stroke and CNS – trauma patients receiving DMSO resulted in improved healing and early rehabilitation.

Studies continue to provide insight into the mechanism of actions of DMSO. It penetrates skin and cells easily, and is quickly distributed in the body via the blood. Laboratory studies suggest that DMSO analgesic property is mediated by its effect on blocking peripheral nerve C fibers, which are responsible of transmitting pain signals. The effect is almost immediate. Researches also continue to consistently prove the anti – inflammatory activity of DMSO. It exerts similar effect in all sorts of inflammatory conditions not related to tumor or infection. DMSO also works by increasing blood flow to affected area, speeding up tissue recovery.

DMSO proven anti – oxidant property leads many researchers to probe into its potential as anti – cancer, by defending the cells from free radicals. Approximately 40 years ago, studies were done on mice which exhibit the radioprotective effect of DMSO. A study by Benjamin Highman published in 1967, involving X-irradiated mice pre – treated with DMSO, sparked the interest on the radioprotective effect of DMSO.

It is common science that nuclear radiation damages cells directly or indirectly via generation of free radicals which damage cellular blue print, the DNA. Thanks to the help of media, most people nowadays are knowledgeable on the cancer causing effect of high energy radiation such as nuclear radiation. Recent Fukushima plant disaster reminded the world once again of the danger of nuclear radiation. This brings great distress especially to the Japanese who were affected by the disaster – reenacting the nightmares of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They have been living in paranoia ever since the disaster. Since nuclear radiation may not be symptomatic but definitely is working damage, people know that they are at high risk of cancer in the future. They have been seeking for radioprotective substance that is substantiated by scientific findings. DMSO appears as a very promising candidate.

DMSO has long been used as free radicals scavengers due to its specific reactivity with hydroxyl radicals. Studies suggest that the radioprotective action of Dimethyl Sulfoxide, DMSO, is mediated by the suppression of hydroxyl (-OH) radicals which are commonly induced by ionizing radiation. Early study involved the exposure of ionizing radiation to DNA treated with high concentration of DMSO. The result showed significant reduction in DNA strand breaks. This result, however, was far from clinical application since the experiment was done on high concentration of DMSO, which was toxic.

Further studies were done on the radioprotective effect of DMSO on therapeutic level. Genro Kashino and a group of Japanese researchers recently published journal on the radioprotective effect of DMSO within therapeutic dose. In their research, published in 2010, they claimed that in DNA treated with 10 % of DMSO, after being irradiated, lethal effects such as chromosomes aberration were suppressed. However, 10% remained a toxic concentration. When the concentration is brought down to 5%, result reflects correspondingly lower radioprotective effect due to suppression of hydroxyl radicals, but interestingly suggests another mechanism by which DMSO exerts radioprotective effects through the facilitation of DNA double – strand break repair. These effects are insignificant if the concentration is brought down to 1 %. These results indicated that low concentration of DMSO exerts radioprotective effects through the facilitation of DNA double-strand break repair rather than through the suppression of radical damage.  

Written by Dr. Benz Napoli

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