What is SAM-e
SAMe or S-adenosylmethionine otherwise known as was first isolated back in the 1950s by an Italian researcher called G.L Cantoni. Since then, a variety of studies have been conducted to determine how it could benefit human health.
Since 1975, it has been widely used in various European countries where it is prescribed to treat depression and arthritis. In the US, it has been available as a supplement since 1999.
Today, SAMe is used to treat a variety of conditions but the bulk of the research has focused on depression, liver disorders, and osteoarthritis. There is a growing body of evidence that SAMe may work as a natural alternative to much stronger prescription medications.
As well as proving its efficacy, research has found that SAMe is generally safe with few adverse side effects or interactions with other medication. See precautions at the end of the article.
This article will look at the main benefits of SAMe and help you decide whether you could benefit from the supplement.
How it Works
SAMe is important to numerous biochemical reactions by contributing methyl – a carbon atom which is attached to three hydrogen atoms. SAMe is a precursor of several amino acids including taurine, glutathione, and cysteine.
SAMe is actually responsible for initiating three metabolic pathways within the body known as polyamine synthesis, transmethylation, and transsulfuration. While these reactions occur all through the body, the liver actually uses the bulk of our SAMe supply.
Quick Facts About SAM-e
- SAMe coccurs naturally and the molecule can be found in every living cell in the body. SAMe supports a wide range of functions which are necessary for proper brain activity.
- SAMe is mostly used to combat depression but is also used as a natural treatment for dementia, arthritis and liver health.
- SAMe can improve the effectiveness of selective serotoninin reuptake inhibitors. A very important study revealed that people taking SSRIs produced very positive results in people suffering with depression when compared to people taking the prescription medications alone.
- SAMe works by several independent and distinct mechanisms. It targets multiple sites within the brain cells involved in depression.
- Clinical trials have demonstrated that SAMe compares well with prescription antidepressants. It works equally as well but comes with a far lower risk of dependence and adverse side effects.
- Its very strong safety profile makes SAMe an excellent, natural choice for dealing with depression and supporting brain health in general. It is especially useful in people for whom antidepressant medication is not working.
- As well as its benefits on depression and brain health, SAMe confers a host of other benefits on the body. It can help support liver health, support the joints, fight osteoarthritis and combat fibromyalgia.
The Health Benefits of SAM-e
As we have already mentioned, SAMe has been used since the 1970s to treat arthritis and depression and since then, there have been a number of studies to analyze its efficacy.
SAMe has been included in many top 10 best ways to ensure longevity for over a decade. It is recommended for aging people to help them feel better overall and also to protect the liver, joints, and brain.
According to research the main benefits of SAMe include the following:
In 2010, a remarkable study done by a team of researchers at Harvard University was published. It claimed that the majority of patients suffering from depression would not experience relief when treated with antidepressant medication. (1)
This means that for most people, antidepressants simply do not work and more help is needed. Ths is where alternative treatments like SAMe come into their own.
According to imaging studies, SAMe works in a similar way and is just as effective as many commonly prescribed antidepressant drugs. The good news, however, is that unlike those prescription medications, SAMe is very well tolerated and comes with very few adverse side effects.
People suffering from depression typically exhibit various biochemical imbalances mostly related to neurotransmitters such as serotonin (involved with mood, learning, appetite, and sleep) and norepinephrine (involved with blood pressure, heart rate, and flight response). The synthesis in the brain of these important neurotransmitters is controlled by vitamin B12, folic acid and SAMe.
When a person is lacking sufficient norepinephrine or serotonin the brain is unable to remain positive and depression is the inevitable result.
Antidepressant drugs generally work by boosting the brain’s neurotransmitter levels. This is the cause of their limitations and their many side effects.
SAMe, however, works through a totally different mechanism to traditional antidepressant medication. SAMe is actually found within every one of our cells and is crucial to cellular function. It affects the fluidity of cell membranes and is thought to influence the way in which neurons can transmit their electrical signals. (2)
SAMe is able to cross over the blood-brain barrier which means it is available for use by the brain and the nervous system. Researchers have found that the level of SAMe found in depressed patient’s spinal fluid was significantly lower compared with healthy individuals. (3)
Several studies have demonstrated that SAMe does not only work on mood but can also help to improve joint function and mobility.
Clinical studies done on the effectiveness of SAMe in patients with arthritis have revealed that it helps to relieve pain and improve mobility in aging people suffering from osteoarthritis.
Studies conducted on animals and in vitro have even revealed that SAMe stimulates the production of new cartilage. This is significant finding when it comes to slowing down or even reversing the progression of arthritis. (4)
SAMe may prove to be a safe and natural alternative strong anti-inflammatory medications. Researchers have actually found that SAMe worked just as well as ibuprofen when it came to treating many of the symptoms of arthritis. In one study, patients treated with SAMe had less pain during rest and motion, reduced levels of stiffness in the morning, reduced swelling and a greater range of mobility in their arthritic joints. (5)
Many people suffering from a liver disease are unable to synthesize SAMe. Studies have demonstrated that taking a SAMe supplement could help in the treatment of liver disease which was caused by alcoholism or medication.
One study looked at the effects of SAMe on 123 adults suffering from, cirrhosis of the liver caused by alcohol abuse. The researchers found that those who took SAMe improved their chances of survival and delayed the necessity of a liver translant when compared to those who took a placebo. (6)
Other studies have shown that SAMe can help improve liver enzyme levels in patients with chronic liver disease.
Studies conducted on animals have even found that SAMe may protect against liver disease and may even reverse damage to the organ. (7)
There is evidence that SAMe may be effective in treating many of the symptoms associated with fibromyalgia such as pain, morning stiffness, fatigue, and depression.
Most of the research into the effects of SAMe on the condition have used SAMe injections. The results where oral supplements were used have been mixed.
There is some preliminary evidence that SAMe might improve certain cognitive symptoms in people with dementia including the ability to remember words and to recall information.
Researchers believe that the ability of SAMe to support cognitive function and improve brain health is related to the role it plays in boosting glutahione levels and its ability to enhance the antioxidant action of SOD (superoxide dismutase)
SAMe has even proven effective in older patients who had been labeled as nonresponders to more conventional treatments. This has led to studies comparing the effects of SAMe with standard medication as opposed to placebos. Researchers have also used SAMe in conjunction with prescription drugs.
When it comes to depression in aging patients, SAMe has consistently performed equally as well or even better than standard prescription antidepressants like desipramine and imipramine. Despite being highly effective, these drugs have a very poor safety profile. In all research done so far, the side effects of taking SAMe were mild.
Interestingly one study found that whether the patients took SAMe or the prescription medication, the level of SAMe found in their blood increased significantly when their symptoms of depression improved. (8)
Frequently Asked Questions
What is SAMe supplement used for?
SAMe is sold as a supplement in the USA but in Europe it has been prescribed as a drug for decades. It is mainly used to treat depression but is also used as a natural remedy for various other conditions including arthritis, dementia, liver disease and fibromyalgia.
What are side effects of SAMe?
The majority of studies into the effects of SAMe have reported either trivial or very mild side effects. That being said, reported side effects include dizziness, headaches, anxiety, upset stomach and nausea. Other potential side effects are constipation, diarrhea, increased sweating and difficulties sleeping.
Can SAMe cause high blood pressure?
The risk of taking SAMe leading to increased blood pressure is considered very low. Having said that, if you already suffer from hypertension, it is best to consult your doctor before taking SAMe supplements.
Why does SAMe need to be taken on an empty stomach?
You are recommended to take SAMe on an empty stomach either an hour or two before or after your meals. The reason for this is that SAMe is absorbed more effectively when your stomach is empty. If the supplement causes heartburn or nausea, make sure that you take it with a good amount of water. One of the potential side effects of taking SAMe is insomnia. Many people get a mild boost of energy after taking the supplement. To avoid trouble sleeping, do not take your SAMe supplements late on in the day.
Is SAMe good for arthritis?
Yes. Studies have demonstrated that SAMe is an effective, natural anti-inflammatory and it also has analgesic properrtities. It can help relieve swelling and pain in people suffering from osteoarthritis and other inflammatory conditions like fibromyalgia, tendinitis, lower back pain and bursitis.
How to Take SAM-e
SAMe can be found in either capsule or tablet form which must be stored in a cool and dry place.
To avoid getting a stomach upset, you should start with a low dose of around 200 mg each day.
The recommended dose depends on which condition you are trying to treat. The following dosages are based on research studies into the effects of the supplement.
- For Depression: Between 800 and 1600 mg each day divided into 2 equal doses.
- For Osteoarthritis: Between 60 and 1200 mg each day divided into 2 or 3 equal doses.
- For Fibromyalgia: 400 mg twice each day.
- For Alcoholic Liver Disease: Between 60 and 1200 mg daily divided into 2 equal doses.
There are several potential side effects and interactions associated with taking SAMe so you should always take these supplements under medical supervision.
- Known common side effects of S adenosyl include nausea, dry mouth, gas, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, and restlessness.
- Less frequent side effects include sweating, palpitations, and dizziness.
- Because of these potential side effects, you should not take SAMe before bed.
- Pregnant women and nursing moms should avoid taking SAMe.
- People suffering from bipolar disorder should avoid SAMe as it can make manic episodes worse.
- Do not combine SAMe with other antidepressants medications.