Afraid of taking the supplement that sounds like "Sammy?" When looking at the unabbreviated name of SAM-e - S-Adenosyl methionine - you might be more frightened. Methionine? It sounds unpleasant, maybe even dangerous! In truth, SAM-e (or just SAM) is naturally produced by our bodies and can be found in some foods. When taken properly as a supplement, it can be a great friend to you. It's no wonder that we stick to the friendly title that sounds more like a proper noun than a toxic gas.
As a methyl donor in our bodies, SAM-e protects against cellular damage and is present throughout the entire body. But if our bodies produce it, and we consume it in foods, why would we want to take SAM-e supplements? For starters, food is not a reliable means of increasing our levels of SAM-e. Here are some other compelling reasons.
- Liver damage. SAM-e is naturally produced by the liver, a result of the interaction between methionine and another scary-sounding substance, adenosine triphosphate (ATP). When healthy, the liver produces around eight milligrams a day, the majority of which is consumed by the liver as well. But when unhealthy, SAM-e production isn't at optimal level. The liver largely uses its SAM-e for the synthesis of glutathione, which is vital to a liver's health. If the liver isn't producing enough SAM-e, then it's not getting enough glutathione. Studies suggest that taking SAM-e as a supplement can aid a damaged liver and fight off liver disease. SAM-e doesn't transform a diseased liver into a healthy one, but it can possibly help sustain a liver long enough for a person to get a liver transplant.
- Eye health. Glutathione doesn't just exist in our liver. This antioxidant can be found in our eyes as well, guarding them from UV damage.
- Depression. The anti-depressant qualities of SAM-e have been a subject of great excitement and study in the worldwide medical community. SAM-e plays a vital role in the creation and regulation of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and melatonin. In doing so, SAM-e can have a mood-altering, and energizing effect similar (and by many accounts, equal) to the effect of prescription antidepressants. People who take SAM-e for depression often report strong, positive results in mood, energy level and focus.
- Osteoarthritis. Studies suggest that SAM-e can reduce inflammation and the pain of osteoarthritis to a similar degree as other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and acetaminophen. The hope is that, with greater study, we can reach the undisputed conclusion that its side effects are fewer and less concerning than those of NSAIDs.
- Other conditions. More research is needed to ascertain the extent to which SAM-e can help with a host of conditions, from migraines to Parkinson's. Studies continue throughout the world and, in time, the full benefits of SAM-e will be more apparent.
- Like any friend, too much of a good thing can lead to problems. The FDA hasn't approved SAM-e for the treatment of any of these conditions; as an over-the-counter supplement, it has evaded FDA regulation. Despite potential benefit and the promise of greater health and comfort, we must approach SAM-e responsibly and respectfully. More SAM-e is not necessarily better; in fact, overdosing on SAM-e has been shown to result in health problems like headache, anxiety, insomnia, diarrhea and - in more severe cases - mania and possibly coronary disease. People who suffer from bipolar disorder face the same danger with SAM-e as they do with antidepressants. More research is needed on the long-term supplementation of SAM-e. In the meantime, rigorous research, guarded optimism and cautious experimentation should be where we find ourselves.
NOTE: SAM-e breaks down to form homocysteine, an amino acid that, in high levels, can lead to coronary problems like stroke and heart attack. For this reason, if you are taking SAM-e supplements, you should definitely take a good B-complex vitamin supplement; B vitamins convert homocysteine back into non-threatening substances.
Because potential long-term side effects are not yet entirely clear, it's best to stick to safe, lower doses and seek the advice of medical professionals as you introduce SAM-e into your diet. Talk to your doctor; together, you can move forward with the greatest promise of improved health through the use of SAM-e.