The Happy Pill Dietary Supplement

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In spite of the numerous antidepressant medications available, evidence suggests that fewer than half of all patients treated with an antidepressant alone will achieve remission of symptoms of major depression. A recent study found that use of the over-the-counter dietary supplement SAMe (SAM-e) alongside a prescribed antidepressant may improve treatment of depression symptoms. More than 36 percent of SAMe users in the study showed improvement in their mental health.

S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe) is a naturally occurring compound produced in the body from methionine, which is an amino acid found in protein-rich foods.

The six-week study was conducted on 73 patients with major depressive disorder who had already been taking an antidepressant with no success. Patients were randomly and blindly assigned to add either SAMe or a placebo to their existing regimen. Outcomes were measured using the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D), a questionnaire used to gauge depression severity.

The study found that improvement, as well as remission, of depression symptoms was more likely with SAMe than with the placebo. In fact, 36.1% of SAMe patients showed improvement versus 17.6% with the placebo. Furthermore, 25.8% of SAMe patients experienced remission of symptoms versus 11.7% with the placebo. The researchers also noted no negative side effects from SAMe use.

SAMe has been available, by prescription, in Europe for more than 30 years. It was made available in the United States as an over-the-counter dietary supplement in 1999. According to a Psychology Today article written by Hara Estroff Marano,”It’s available in the U.S. as a dietary supplement, but that is merely a technicality, its pharmacologic green card. SAM-e is a bona-fide prescription drug in Europe, where it has been shown effective against depression, osteoarthritis, and liver disease.”

There have been a number of studies examining the efficacy of taking SAM-e alone for depression: SAM-e versus a placebo; SAM-e versus an antidepressant medication; or SAM-e versus an antidepressant and placebo together. For the first time, this study pitted an antidepressant and SAM-e against an antidepressant/placebo combination.

These SAM-e study findings are definitely promising, but they will require further research to really be telling. As always, consult your medical care provider before making any medication changes.

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