In increasing numbers, depression sufferers are looking for natural alternatives to prescription anti-depressants, but do these widely-available non-prescription supplements offer the same benefits? SAM-e is among the top choices for those seeking safe, natural, and effective depression relief.
What It Is
SAM-e, or S-adenosyl-L-methionine, is found throughout the human body in the form of a naturally occurring chemical. SAM-e plays a vital role in cellular growth and repair. It is also helps synthesize mood-effecting neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. Serotonin deficiencies are commonly associated with the symptoms of depression, insomnia, and anxiety.
Where It Comes From
SAM-e is a synthetic form of a compound which naturally forms in the body from the essential amino acid methionine and adenosine triphosphate, an energy-producing substance contained within each cell of the human body. SAM-e is available as a natural dietary supplement and can be purchased at pharmacies, health food stores, and online without a prescription.
What It Does
A growing body of research indicates that taking a SAM-e supplement increases the availaibility of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter largely credited with regulating mood, sleep patterns, and the mind's perception of pain. SAM-e is also reported to have a positive impact on the brain's ability to access dopamine, a neurotransmitter which plays important roles in controlling voluntary movement, feelings of motivation, the sense of punishment and reward, moods, memory, and learning. As we age, the levels of SAM-e in our bodies tend to decline. Additionally, studies have shown that people experiencing low moods tend to have less SAM-e present in their bodies.
How It Works To Relieve Depression Symptoms
Like prescription SSRIs, or Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors, the exact mechanism which causes SAM-e to have a positive impact on depression symptoms is still unknown. Some researchers have theorized that SAM-e may influence the expression of genes involved in depression or change the way neurotransmitters are transported in the brain. Some have indicated SAM-e may have a direct effect on the creation of neurotransmitters in the brain.
A 2002 study conducted by the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality suggested that SAM-e use resulted in a beneficial impact on depression symptoms, and that in some cases, the supplement was as effective as tricyclic antidepressants. Tricyclic antidepressants have been associated with a variety of serious side effects, including drowsiness, nausea, weight gain, light sensitivity, sexual dysfunction, disorientation and confusion, urinary retention, constipation and increased heart rate.
Dosage and Side Effects
When being used to treat depression symptoms, SAM-e dosages ranging from 400 mg to 1,600 mg are commonly used. Because some people have a better reaction to a lower dose, it's recommended to start with 400 mg and add more over time if needed.
The most common side effects of SAM-e are digestive complaints, particularly nausea, but these are often reported to subside as therapy continues. Other possible side effects can include skin rash, lowered blood sugar, increased thirst, increased urination, headache, hyperactivity, anxiety and insomnia. If these occur, consulting a medical professional before continuing SAM-e therapy is strongly advised.
People with Parkinson's disease or who are currently taking a prescription antidepressant should avoid taking SAM-e. People who have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder should consult a medical professional before starting a SAM-e regimen. It is advisable for everyone to consult a medical professional before beginning therapy with any vitamin or supplement.