By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 10 February 2015)
S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe) plays a role in cell membrane maintenance, immune function, and the breakdown of neurotransmitters and hormones that are involved in mood regulation. Adequate levels of B12 and B6 are required to maintain an appropriate level of SAMe in the body.
SAMe has proven effective in reducing osteoarthritis pain, and some studies have shown benefits for treating depression as well. Unfortunately, many studies of SAMe’s effects on various conditions have used injections rather than capsules, so experts don’t know if oral SAMe is as effective as injected SAMe (University of Maryland Medical Center, 2011).
How SAMe Works
SAMe is not available in food; rather, it is produced by the body, and people produce less of it as they age.
It is believed that SAMe may help with depression by increasing serotonin levels in the body, much in the way SSRI medications do. Given that anxiety disorders can often be treated with SSRI medications, SAMe may have antianxiety effects as well. However, although there have been a number of depression studies, a review of the available research suggests that there have been no direct studies of SAMe for anxiety.
If taking SAMe supplements, start with a relatively low dose and gradually increase it to reduce the risk of stomach upset. SAMe supplements may not be well-absorbed, which reduces their effect in the body. Taking vitamins B12 and B6, as well as methionine and trimethylglycine, can increase absorption of SAMe (University of Maryland Medical Center, 2011).
SAMe supplements can interact with certain medications (including antidepressants) and are contraindicated for some conditions. Don’t take SAMe supplements if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, suffer from manic depression (bipolar disorder) or Parkinson’s disease, or are scheduled to have surgery within a few weeks. SAMe may also affect blood sugar, making it problematic for people who suffer from diabetes or hypoglycemia.
According to Ronald Glick, MD, medical director of the Center for Complementary Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center-Shadyside (cited in Lerche Davis, 2004), most people don’t suffer side effects when taking SAMe. However, there are certainly exceptions to this rule.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center (2011), reported side effects with SAMe use have included nausea, diarrhea, gas, headache, elation, insomnia, restlessness, dry mouth, sweating, dizziness, heart palpitations, and anxiety. Although not everyone experiences side effects, SAMe may be a risky supplement for people who suffer from panic attacks.
Also worth noting is that the supplement industry is largely unregulated, which means that some companies offer better quality SAMe products than others. Doing a little research into the company beforehand is recommended if you plan to take supplements. Also, it is important to consult a doctor before taking supplements to ensure safe and effective dosing.
There are things you can do to increase SAMe naturally. To help maintain adequate levels of SAMe, eat foods rich in vitamins B12 and B6 such as whole grains, meat, eggs, dairy products, and fish. Dr. Edmund Bourne (2005) notes that those who suffer from anxiety may benefit from taking a B vitamin complex supplement (50-100 mg per day with meals) as well. High-dose vitamin B supplements can turn your urine bright yellow. If you see this effect, don’t worry – it’s harmless.
Other Natural Anxiety Remedies
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical or psychiatric advice. Medical concerns should be referred to a qualified doctor.
- Bourne, Edmund J., PhD. (2005). The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
- Cowley, G., & Underwood, A. (1999, July). “What Is SAMe?” Newsweek, BioPsychiatry.com.
- Lerche Davis, J. (Reviewed by C. Haines, 2004, December 9). “Alternatives for Mood Disorders.” MedicineNet.com.
- Saeed, S.A.; Bloch, R.M.; & Antonacci, D.J. (2007). “Herbal and Dietary Supplements for Treatment of Anxiety Disorders.” American Family Physician, 76(4), 549-556.
- The Mayo Clinic. (2011, October 1). “SAMe.” MayoClinic.com.
- University of Maryland Medical Center (2011). “S-Adenosylmethionine.” UMM.edu.
- WebMD. (2015). “SAMe.” WebMD.com.