Gabe Mirkin, M.D.
What do you think when you hear that an over-the-counter pill helps
to treat depression, arthritis and liver disease and is completely
safe? It's called SAMe (pronounced "Sammy") and so far, few side
effects have been reported from taking it.
All protein in your body is made from building blocks called amino
acids. Of the 21 in your body, 9 are essential and must be obtained
from the food that you eat. The other 12 are called non-essential
because your body can make them from the essential 9. In your body,
the essential amino acid, methionine, forms the non-essential amino
acid, cysteine. But before it does this, methionine is converted to
SAMe which helps form cartilage to alleviate pain in arthritis,
raises brain levels of serotonin to treat depression, and helps the
liver repair itself by some unknown mechanism. If you have enough of
the vitamins folic acid, pyridoxine and B12, SAMe is recycled back
to methionine or is converted to glutathione that helps protect your
body from injury. If you lack B12, pyridoxine or folic acid, SAMe is
converted to homocysteine which can cause birth defects, heart
attacks, strokes and depression.
With all the good news about the function of SAMe in your body,
there is no scientific evidence that taking SAMe as a supplement has
any benefit. It is far more important that you have enough vitamins
B12, pyridoxine and folic acid to convert the SAMe made in your own
body to the healthful glutathione. If you do not have enough of
these three vitamins, SAMe is converted to the harmful homocysteine.
Scientists do not know all the side effects of SAMe supplements and
they have no idea whether you will be harmed years later. The
supplement industry is not regulated so the marketers of SAMe are
not required to answer these questions. You don't even have any way
to know if the pills actually contain any SAMe.