Learn More About SAM-e

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What is SAM-e?Scientists variously describe S-adenosylmethionine, or SAM-e, as an amino acid derivative, as a coenzyme, as a precursor to the vital antioxidant glutathione, and particularly as a methylation agent. Research shows that all living organisms manufacture small amounts of this methionine-based molecule, which is required by a surprisingly large fraction of genes, since methylation is one of the key chemical processes of life. SAM-e is also involved in the synthesis of various brain neurotransmitters. Levels of SAM-e decline with age. Discovered by Italian researchers in 1952, SAM-e did not become commercially available as a supplement for another four decades. 

What are food sources of SAM-e?

No known food sources of SAM-e exist, although adequate amounts of B-12, folic acid, B-6, and methionine are needed for the body’s ability to manufacture it. Another nutrient that can assist in this process is trimethylglycine, or TMG, found in beets and as a supplement.

What is SAM-e used for?

Some studies suggest that SAM-e may help the body manufacture proteoglycans, molecules essential for healthy cartilage. When given to older people and to athletes suffering from sports-related joint problems, SAM-e may work as well as, or better than, celecoxib, a drug commonly used to treat osteoarthritis. For those with osteoarthritis that has not become so severe as to require joint replacement, SAM-e may be able to promote the production of adequate amounts of healthy cartilage, and to fight pain. SAM-e has been shown in a number of studies to bring arthritis pain relief comparable to that of the oft-prescribed NSAID's, naproxin and piroxicam - without their side effects. Although no studies have yet been done showing whether or not SAM-e could work even better if taken with glucosamine, anti-inflammatory herbs such as turmeric and ginger, and/or fish oil, a number of researchers suspect that this approach may be optimal for many.

SAM-e has long been postulated to have antidepressant properties, since it is involved not only in the formation of many brain neurotransmitters but also in their breakdown, and studies that have been done do seem to bear this notion out. Indeed, clinicians have found to their surprise that SAM-e appears to exert its mood-boosting effects more quickly than do such SSRI drugs as Prozac. Some patients who cannot tolerate standard antidepressant drugs or who have no response to them report good effects from SAM-e. Researchers have found biochemical evidence of this in the cerebrospinal fluid of SAM-e users, who tend to have higher-than-normal levels of metabolites of dopamine and serotonin, two key antidepressant neurotransmitters. It should also be noted that for years European doctors, unlike their American counterparts, have routinely prescribed SAM-e for depression.

Evidence for SAM-e’s benefits for liver health, while weaker than for its effects on arthritis and depression, is still compelling. Up to 85% of the body’s methylation reactions take place in the liver, which means that SAM-e plays a crucial role in liver function. Results of several animal studies suggest that SAM-e may be beneficial in treating various liver disorders, particularly liver damage caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Animal studies also suggest that SAM-e may protect the liver from damage after acetaminophen overdose. A study of 123 men and women with alcoholic liver cirrhosis (liver failure) found that SAM-e treatment for 2 years may improve survival rates and delay the need for liver transplants more effectively than placebo. Although the results of this study are encouraging, additional clinical trials are needed to determine whether SAMe is safe and effective for the treatment of liver disease.

How is SAM-e taken?

To prevent nausea and to enhance absorption, SAM-e is best taken on an empty stomach. The form preferred by most doctors and scientists comes in blister packs and is enterically coated. Dosages typically range from 400 mg to 1600 mg per day.

Is SAM-e safe?

For the great majority of people SAM-e appears to be safe, although those suffering from bipolar disorder should avoid this supplement, since its powerful antidepressant effects may cause a manic episode.

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