SAM-e, or S-Adenosylmethionine, is a chemical that naturally occurs in the human body and is essential for many biological processes. Although SAM-e itself is not a hormone or neurotransmitter, it plays a role in producing and breaking down important brain chemicals that are associated with depression and anxiety, such as serotonin, melatonin, and dopamine.
Like many other important natural compounds, SAM-e can also be produced in a laboratory and is available in pill form. SAM-e is used as a prescription drug in some European countries, introduced in Italy in 1979, Spain in 1985, and Germany in 1989. There have not been enough clinical trials for it to receive FDA approval in the United States, but it has been available as a dietary supplement in the US since 1999.
During a study of SAM-e’s effect on depression, researchers discovered that the compound appears effective as a treatment for osteoarthritis. Subsequent studies have found that SAM-e may also improve depression, with some indications it may work as well as tricyclic antidepressants. It has been suggested as a treatment for a number of other disorders, from anxiety to Alzheimer’s to fibromyalgia, but there is little research to indicate that it is an effective treatment for any of them.
SAM-e is generally considered to be safe for most people, but there are certain side effects and warnings you should be aware of if you’re considering taking SAM-e for anxiety. Because SAM-e affects serotonin, taking it along with common antidepressants like SSRIs could cause a serious condition known as serotonin syndrome, a potentially life-threatening increase in serotonin levels. SAM-e can cause side effects like mild insomnia, nervousness, and anxiety, and it has been associated with episodes of hypomania and mania.