Back in 1999, SAMe caused quite a stir when it was introduced in the United States as a dietary supplement. So much so that Newsweek—a magazine traditionally skeptical of anything outside mainstream medicine—wrote a glowing article: “The ‘Sammy’ Solution: A new supplement may help relieve depression and arthritis as well.”
Following the Newsweek story, SAMe’s popularity kept growing, prompting researchers to take a thorough look at the evidence. In 2002, the US Department of Health and Human Services published an Evidence Report. The authors examined 102 clinical studies and concluded that SAMe was just as effective as prescription drugs for depression, without side effects. SAMe was also just as effective as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications for osteoarthritis, without causing gastrointestinal, kidney, or liver damage.
Considering that this report was published more than a decade ago, why isn’t SAMe a household word? Likely because the enormous sums of money spent marketing pharmaceutical drugs for depression and arthritis far outweigh anything imaginable for a simple dietary supplement—but that’s no reason to ignore SAMe’s benefits.
What Is SAMe?
Pronounced “sam-EE,” short for S-adenosylmethionine, the substance is not found in food but is made by our bodies from the amino acid methionine. SAMe exists in every cell and is essential for life.
It was discovered in Italy in 1952, and was initially prescribed as an injection to treat depression. Along the way, patients noticed that their arthritis pain was also disappearing, and studies confirmed SAMe’s efficacy for the joint disease. European doctors also began prescribing it for fibromyalgia and liver disorders. Eventually, after becoming available in pills, SAMe emerged in the United States as a dietary supplement.
SAMe is needed for a process known as “methylation,” which occurs continually throughout our lives. SAMe provides groups of molecules, known as “methyl groups,” to enable our bodies to produce other chemicals that are vital for normal function, including neurotransmitters and substances involved in regenerating joint cartilage and controlling pain. Methylation also influences how genes behave—to cause or heal disease, or to speed up or slow down aging.
In short, SAMe plays a critical role in our health. Folic acid and vitamin B12 support its production, but as we age, our bodies may not produce enough SAMe, so a supplement can help fill in the gaps.
Since the 2002 government report, evidence of SAMe’s benefits has continued to be published in scientific journals. For example, Harvard Medical School researchers confirmed its efficacy and safety for depression in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. And a detailed review of studies at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland found “consistent evidence” that SAMe is effective for osteoarthritis.
In other studies, some of which used an injectable form, SAMe relieved fibromyalgia symptoms, including exhaustion, stiffness, pain, and depression. Research also shows that people with liver disease aren’t able to produce normal amounts of SAMe. While the supplement isn’t a cure, it has delayed the need for transplants in people with liver failure, while also helping restore liver enzymes to normal levels. Test-tube and animal studies show that SAMe may also stop or slow the growth of cancer cells and blood vessels that feed tumors.
What to Take
There is no single dose for SAMe, as individual needs vary. Although studies report no significant side effects, some people experience digestive upset or anxiety, which may be relieved with a lower dose. SAMe builds up in your system, so you may need to adjust the dose after taking it for a while.
Some physicians recommend starting with as little as 50–100 mg daily, first thing in the morning, and building up gradually until you experience relief. These are the highest dosages used in studies:
In pills, SAMe is absorbed from the small intestine, not the stomach. To avoid premature breakdown by stomach acids, take SAMe on an empty stomach. Enteric-coated supplements that resist stomach acid and help SAMe reach the small intestine intact are also available.
Better Nutrition contributing editor, Vera Tweed has been writing about nutrition, fitness, and healthy living since 1997. She specializes in covering research and expert knowledge that empowers people to lead better lives.
SAMe 200 boasts pharmaceutical grade, active-form SAMe. This product is vegetarian-friendly.
are blister-packed tablets that deliver 400 mg of active SAMe.
SAMe features a stable, bioavailable form of SAMe in enteric-coated tablets that are blister packed to ensure potency.