By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 30 March 2012)
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center (17 June 2011), “S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe) is a naturally occurring compound that is found in almost every tissue and fluid in the body.” This compound plays a role in immunity, the maintenance of cell membranes, and the breakdown of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and melatonin. A B12 or folate deficiency may lead to a SAMe deficiency. SAMe has been used to treat conditions ranging from depression to fibromyalgia to osteoarthritis.
The Use of SAMe as a Complementary Autism Therapy
James et al. (2004) found that children with autism have lower levels of SAMe. Based on this and a number of other abnormalities in metabolical biomarkers, the authors concluded that “An increased vulnerability to oxidative stress and a decreased capacity for methylation may contribute to the development and clinical manifestation of autism.”
However, parent ratings of the use of SAMe suggest that it’s not particularly effective as a supplement for autistic spectrum disorders. Of 142 parent ratings provided to the Autism Research Institute, improvements were noted in just 21% of cases, with 63% seeing no benefits, and 16% a worsening of symptoms. Ratings for Asperger’s syndrome were similar, with 17% seeing benefits, 67% no change, and 17% a worsening of symptoms (this total is higher than 100% because percentages are rounded up to nearest whole).
Overall, research suggests that SAMe might have some benefits for depression (Williams et al., 2005), a condition that often accompanies autistic spectrum disorders, but is unlikely to address other autistic symptoms directly. Also, SAMe can have a number of side effects, including stomach upsets, diarrhea, and anxiety, and its long-term effects are not known.
Other Autism Supplements
For more on the effectiveness of other supplements for treating autistic spectrum disorders, see the main Autism Supplements page. For a full list of articles on autism and Asperger’s syndrome, visit the main Autistic Spectrum Disorders page.
Always consult a qualified medical practitioner before taking supplements or giving them to your child. Many supplements are toxic at certain doses and may interact with some medications or create problems for people with certain medical conditions.
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical consultation or care. Health concerns should be referred to a doctor.
- Autism Research Institute. (2008). “Parent Ratings for Autism” and “Parent Ratings for Asperger’s Syndrome.” Autism.com.
- James, S.J.; Cutler, P.; Melnyk, S.; Jernigan, S.; Janak, L.; Gaylor, D.W.; & Neubrander, J.A. (2004). “Metabolic Biomarkers of Increased Oxidative Stress and Impaired Methylation Capacity in Children with Autism.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 80(6), pp. 1,611, 1,617.
- University of Maryland Medical Center. (17 June 2011). “S-Adenosylmethionine.” UMM.edu.
- Williams, A.L.; Girard, C.; Jui, D.; Sabina, A.; & Katz, D.L. (2005). “S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe) as Treatment for Depression: A Systematic Review.” Clinical and Investigative Medicine, 28(3), pp. 132-139.