S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM-e) is a natural chemical in the human body that may help treat depression symptoms.

More than 200 different chemical reactions in the body rely on SAM-e. A person’s body also uses SAM-e when they are ill and as they age. Some research suggests that SAM-e may be effective for managing depression when people use it in combination with an antidepressant. However, the available research is limited.

This article discusses what SAM-e is and how it may help with depression. It also explores what depression is and how doctors treat the condition.

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Researchers first discovered SAM-e in the 1950s. They found that the body produces SAM-e from methionine, which is an amino acid — a molecule that combines with other amino acids to create proteins. Proteins perform important functions such as supporting growth and repairing damaged tissue.

Scientists found that SAM-e helps produce neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Irregular levels of these molecules may play a role in the development of depression.

Several countries in Europe have approved SAM-e as a prescription medication for depression. In the United States, it is available as a dietary supplement.

Depression is a common mood disorder that can affect many aspects of an individual’s life. More than 19 million adults and teenagers in the U.S. currently live with depression.

Some of the common symptoms of depression are:

  • feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • loss of interest in activities that were once pleasurable
  • sleep problems, such as sleeping too little or too much
  • unexplained weight changes or appetite changes
  • negative thoughts
  • feelings of emptiness or sadness
  • lethargy
  • trouble concentrating
  • suicidal ideation

Depression affects people of all ages and from all types of backgrounds, but certain factors can increase the risk of developing this mental health condition.

People who have a family history of depression are more likely to develop it themselves. Challenging life events, extreme stress, or traumatic events can make depression more likely. Individuals who develop a major illness such as cancer or diabetes also have a higher risk of experiencing depression.

Anyone experiencing depression symptoms should speak with a healthcare professional who can provide a diagnosis and recommend treatment.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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The research into SAM-e treatment for depression is still limited, but some researchers believe that SAM-e may work against depression by affecting certain chemicals in the brain.

Taking supplemental SAM-e may increase the turnover of serotonin in the brain. It may also increase dopamine activity and inhibit the reuptake of norepinephrine. Because these neurotransmitters can play a role in depression, SAM-e may reduce depression symptoms in some people.

In one scientific review, researchers compared the effectiveness of SAM-e to that of conventional antidepressants. They found that SAM-e was more effective than a placebo when people took it in combination with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

However, they noted that the studies they analyzed were of poor quality and that further conclusive research is necessary.

Other research suggests that taking 800 milligrams (mg) of SAM-e each day in combination with an antidepressant may improve depression symptoms.

A 2020 study indicates that taking larger doses of SAM-e, up to 3,200 mg per day, may be more effective for treating symptoms of depression.

However, higher doses may increase the risk of experiencing abdominal discomfort. The study authors noted that their research had limitations and that they could not rule out the placebo effect.

Individuals who are interested in SAM-e for depression should speak with a doctor to learn more.

It is important to note that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved SAM-e for medicinal use. The FDA classifies SAM-e as a dietary supplement in the U.S.

While SAM-e may be helpful for depression, people with this condition should not take SAM-e without a doctor’s instructions. Research into SAM-e for depression is limited, and SAM-e may interact with medications.

Many effective treatment options are available for depression. For example, psychotherapy can help relieve symptoms of depression. A mental health professional can help a person identify negative thoughts or experiences that may be contributing to a depressive episode.

Through psychotherapy, individuals may learn more about the reasons they are experiencing depression. They may develop healthier thought patterns and coping tools to manage their symptoms.

Many medications are also available for individuals with depression. Like SAM-e, antidepressants affect the activity of neurotransmitters in the brain.

Individuals interested in treatment with antidepressants should work with a doctor to learn more about all their options. Antidepressants have various side effects and may not be right for everyone.

Because there is no one-size-fits-all depression treatment, finding the best treatment plan can take some trial and error. Some people may find that their symptoms improve with psychotherapy or medication alone, whereas others may find a combination of the two treatments more effective.

Depression is a common mental health condition that affects people from all backgrounds. Many effective treatments are available, including psychotherapy and antidepressant medications.

The chemical SAM-e occurs naturally in the body. It is also available in the U.S. as a dietary supplement. Some research suggests that it can help address depression symptoms, but further conclusive research is necessary.

People interested in taking SAM-e for depression should consult a healthcare professional for further information before doing so. A doctor can create an individualized treatment plan for a person who is experiencing depression.