Q: Years ago, I read in your column that MSM supplements (without glucosamine) helped hair stay full and thick. I started taking it about 2002, and I have pretty, thick, healthy hair at age 57. I definitely saw an improvement in my hair within a few months of starting the supplement. Thank you for your good advice!

A: MSM stands for methylsulfonylmethane. It is a naturally occurring compound with well-established anti-inflammatory activity. A review of the medical literature concludes that MSM can ease the pain and stiffness of arthritis (Nutrients, March 2017).

Although there is some preliminary research to suggest that this dietary supplement may be helpful for skin quality and texture, we could find no data to support its benefits for improving hair growth in humans. Some people speculate that MSM can be beneficial for hair health because it is a good source of sulfur. Until there are clinical trials, however, this remains hypothetical. Fortunately, MSM appears to be well-tolerated with a good safety profile (Complementary Therapies in Medicine, August 2019).

Q: I have been sick for about seven weeks. Blood tests showed liver failure, although I never drank. Repeat tests three weeks later showed normal labs.

The liver doctor I saw insisted the elevated liver enzymes were from taking “supplements,” although I assured him several times that I don’t take supplements. I do use a few spices and herb teas, mostly grown in my own garden. I use fresh ginger and fresh turmeric, some of which I grow.

The liver specialist said I must NEVER use any supplement and never any spice or herb tea because it is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. He overlooked the fact that for several years I took drugs that were dangerous. Some were recalled, like Hismanal. I took valsartan for several years before learning it contained a carcinogen. So does Zantac, but the FDA doesn’t recall it.

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I do not understand why this physician can’t see that the FDA is of little use in regulating anything. Patients are at a disadvantage, and medicine is more and more run as a business, interested only in the bottom line.

A: We are so sorry to hear that you have been ill. The liver doctor is no doubt aware that a few herbal supplements, such as kava extract, black cohosh, green tea extract and germander, can be harmful to the liver (Food and Chemical Toxicology, September 2017). On the other hand, as you point out, there are hundreds of drugs that can cause liver injury (Expert of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, January 2018).

We encourage you to monitor your liver function periodically to make sure the abnormal test results were an anomaly.

Q: My doctor told me to take 5,000 IU of vitamin D in the morning and 5,000 IU of vitamin D in the evening. Is this amount OK?

A: According to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements, the recommended daily allowance for vitamin D (ages 1-70) is 600 IU. We think that is low, but your intake of 10,000 IU is very high. According to the experts, the upper limit should be 4,000 IU a day.

You can read more about this topic in our Guide to vitamin D Deficiency. It provides more information on the pros and cons of this nutrient. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10) stamped (70 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. D-23, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website: peoplespharmacy.com.