S-Adenosyl methionine, or SAM-e, for short, is a biological compound that exists naturally within the body and is also available in supplement form. SAM-e has been sold in supplement form in Europe since the 1970s when it became a prescription drug in Italy (where it was discovered in 1952). While studies performed in Europe have suggested that the supplement performs better than generic drugs for depression and anxiety, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to officially test and approve it as a drug.
This article will discuss how SAM-e works within the body and examine the pros and cons of using this supplement to combat anxiety.
Complementing SAM-e or Other Treatments
When you take any herb or medicine, you still need to take steps so that you don't have to take it forever. Make sure you complete my free 7-minute anxiety test to find out some of these steps.
SAM-e in Your Body
SAM-e is just one of many alternative treatments that people take for anxiety. Some of them will work. Many of them will not. Make sure you take my free anxiety test to find out about other treatments.
While you may not currently be taking SAM-e supplements, your body uses SAM-e on a regular basis. Unlike the chemicals in your body more commonly thought of as being associated with anxiety, such as hormones and neurotransmitters like adrenaline and serotonin, SAM-e is neither a hormone nor a neurotransmitter. Instead, it is a cosubstrate made of two different compounds, namely adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and methionine.
It is mainly produced in the liver, and used by the body in what is called “methyl group transfers,” also known as “methylation.” Methylation is a process that occurs billions of times a day, in which the methyl group from one molecule is transferred to another, allowing the molecule that receives the methyl to participate in different reactions. These reactions include cell repair, but also naturally balancing by way of biosynthesis the mood-related hormones and neurotransmitters that regular anti-anxiety meds usually focus on increasing or decreasing.
How SAM-e Works Against Anxiety
SAM-e works by regulating the amounts of various hormones and neurotransmitters in the body. Supplemental SAM-e works to reduce anxiety by causing methylation to occur more often in the body, resulting in better regulation of mood-regulating hormones and neurotransmitters for people who are deficient in them. The hormones and neurotransmitters affected by SAM-e are listed below, along with their various effects.
*Serotonin*Higher levels of serotonin are associated with happiness and relaxation, whereas low levels of serotonin are often seen in people with depression and anxiety disorders.
Melatonin Melatonin supplements have proven effective as anti-depressants in treating Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, which indicates that melatonin deficiency is in part responsible for depressed thoughts and feelings that can, in turn, feed anxiety disorders.
Dopamine Dopamine is the chemical in the brain responsible for the so-called “reward” sensation associated with activities such as the consumption of food and engaging in sexual intercourse. It plays a part in motivating you to do the things you enjoy, and, like serotonin, makes the body feel happy and relaxed.
Adrenaline High levels of adrenaline in the body are produced by fear and anxiety, both of which trigger the body’s fight or flight response. Better regulation of adrenaline means that lower levels of it are maintained in the body.
Normal amounts of the above hormones and neurotransmitters in the body are required to keep a person healthy and happy. Though SAM-e has been tested and proven effective in Europe, long-term testing in the U.S. has not been performed, and it is unknown whether SAM-e is safe to use regularly as a supplement. There are some potential side effects associated with SAM-e supplements, which are outlined below.
What to Know Before You Dose
Though SAM-e already exists in the body, adding extra anything to your body that has not produced itself can have unexpected side effects. One of potential side effects of SAM-e is insomnia.
Insomnia can be problematic for anxiety sufferers, who are already predisposed to sleeplessness due to their condition. It is recommended that SAM-e is taken in the morning due to this potential side effect, even for people without anxiety disorders. Insomnia can also lead to more anxiety, so SAM-e may be causing the very same issue it is believed to treat.
Additionally, studies have shown that excess SAM-e can result in excess amounts of a natural byproduct of SAM-e known as S-adenosyl-homocysteine, or SAH, for short. Vitamin B is required to properly break down homocysteine in the body, and if not enough Vitamin B is available to combat homocysteine, it can have dangerous side effects such as hardening and narrowing the arteries and increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes, as well as liver damage.
Due to this risk, Vitamin B is a necessary supplement for anyone taking supplemental SAM-e, particularly if you plan to take it long-term (despite the fact that not enough studies have been done to support the safety of a long-term treatment option). B vitamins are found in most whole, unprocessed foods. Meat products with extra vitamin B include turkey, tuna, and liver, while vegetarian and vegan options with vitamin B include potatoes, bananas, lentils, beans and the popular drink "kombucha."
Does SAM-e Work?
It's difficult to say whether or not SAM-e has any effect on the body because little research has been conducted to test it. Most natural supplements do not affect, either because the body disposes of any excess nutrient or because it doesn't cross the blood-brain barrier.
But SAM-e also has little downside. Talk to a doctor first though if you're considering it and make sure you never take any supplement alone. Take my free anxiety test to learn more about non-medicinal ways to cure anxiety.
Papakostas, George I. Evidence for S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM-e) for the treatment of major depressive disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 70.Suppl. 5 (2009): 18-22.
Shippy, R. Andrew, et al. S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e) for the treatment of depression in people living with HIV/AIDS. BMC psychiatry 4.1 (2004): 38.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Nov 23, 2017.