Depression, osteoarthritis, and liver disease are distinctly different conditions, so it may seem odd that one dietary supplement, SAMe (pronounced “sam-EE”) can help all three. But it does – and research proves it.
Not found in food, SAMe is an abbreviation for s-adenosylmethionine, a substance made by our bodies. Found in every cell, it’s essential for life and when in short supply, can affect mood, joints, and liver function. SAMe was originally discovered in 1952 in Europe, and then began to be used as a treatment for depression. But in studies of depression, people who also suffered from osteoarthritis found that it helped their joints, and later, liver benefits were also observed.
In 1999, the supplement became available in the United States and caused quite a stir, making headlines for its benefits for depression and arthritis, and the government began examining the research.
After a three-year review of 102 studies, the Department of Health and Human Services published a report in 2002. In it, investigators concluded that in two areas, the supplement worked as well as pharmaceutical drugs.
Depression: “Compared to treatment with conventional antidepressant pharmacology, treatment with SAMe was not associated with a statistically significant difference in outcomes.”
Osteoarthritis: “Compared to treatment with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, treatment with SAMe was not associated with a statistically significant difference in outcomes.” Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) include ibuprofen, Aleve, and prescription drugs such as Celebrex.
In studies of depression, SAMe has been effective when pitted against SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and tricyclic antidepressants, and when compared to a dummy pill. But it doesn’t have the side effects of those drugs.
Sexual problems, including erectile dysfunction, are a side effect of antidepressants for up to 73 percent of men. One recent study, at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, found that among men taking the drugs, SAMe significantly improved their ability to have sex.
SAMe influences our health in multiple ways because it is prevalent throughout our bodies. It supports the liver and joints, and is used in making neurotransmitters. In addition, it is a building block for our internal antioxidant production ― an essential mechanism that keeps us in good shape as we age.
How to Use SAMe
SAMe is not a dietary vitamin or mineral, so there is no minimum daily requirement. Studies have often used 400 mg, three or four times daily, but some integrative physicians recommend starting with a lower dosage. Although studies have found no significant side effects, some people do experience stomach upset, anxiety, restlessness, or sleep problems with higher dosages.
Since individual responses vary, recommended starting doses range from 50 to 200 mg, once or twice daily. If you don’t experience any relief in a few days, gradually increase the dose, up to 400 mg, three or four times daily, if necessary.
SAMe builds in your system over time, so once you feel improvement, gradually start cutting back until you find the lowest dose where benefits are maintained. Take SAMe on an empty stomach.
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