Traditional Antidepressants and Alternatives Gallup NM
By Sarah Schmidt
A chemical that helps apples ripen seems an unlikely prospect for chasing away the blues. But SAM-e, a substance found in plants and animals and produced in small amounts by the human body, does exactly that. It’s already hugely popular in Europe, and is gaining ground in this country as one of the most effective natural treatments for depression. Its relative lack of side effects and ability to play well with other drugs make it an appealing alternative not only to prescription drugs, but to Saint-John’s-wort, too.
As many as one in six people suffer from depression at some point in life, and for many of them, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other antidepressants have been a salvation. But the side effects these drugs often cause—gastrointestinal problems, headaches, dry mouth, loss of libido—have sent quite a few of those depression sufferers to the health food store in search of alternatives.
For years, Saint-John’s-wort has been the supplement they were most likely to seek out. But SAM-e hit the big time recently with the publication of a study from none other than Harvard Medical School. Surveying the scientific literature, researchers found that SAM-e is as effective as most conventional antidepressants while causing fewer and milder side effects. Even better, it doesn’t seem to interfere with the action of birth control pills, blood thinners, and HIV drugs, as Saint-John’s-wort can.
“SAM-e has really helped a tremendous number of people,” says Richard Brown, a psychopharmacologist at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and a leading expert on the supplement.
A combination of the amino acid methionine and the energy molecule ATP, SAM-e—otherwise known as S-adenosylmethionine—is involved in all sorts of biological processes. In plants, it provides energy for cells and is one of the chemicals needed for fruit to ripen. In people, it’s essential for liver and brain function, it protects nerve cells from oxidation, and it plays a role—along with the B vitamins—in the formation of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
In fact, SAM-e’s link to these brain chemicals is what first led scientists to study its effect on mood, back in the 1980s. Since then, dozens of studies on SAM-e and depression have yielded impressive results, helping to make it a popular prescription antidepressant in Europe. It’s also used there to treat osteoarthritis and certain liver diseases; for arthritis patients, it appears to stimulate the growth of cartilage, and it helps produce antioxidants that aid the liver in filtering toxins.
“SAM-e has gained ground around the world not because any drug company was pushing it, but because doctors and researchers are finding that it works,” says Brown. He first started looking into the compound 14 years ago after a patient approached him about it. “She’d been on traditional antidepressants and didn’t like the side effects, so she asked me about using ...
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