The SAM-e Story
A chapter from the book Stop Depression Now, by Richard Brown, M.D., Teodoro Bottiglieri, Ph.D., and Carol Colman, published by Putnam Sons 1999.
When people start taking SAM-e for the first time, two things usually happen. Within days, their mood begins to lift and they have an increased sense of wellbeing. But that’s not all. They also report something quite unique to SAM-e. They consistently say that they actually feel more energetic and healthier. That’s quite a change from what you generally hear from a patient starting an antidepressant.
Unlike other antidepressants, SAM-e is made from substances normally found in the human body—methionine and adenosine triphosphate (or ATP). Methionine is an essential amino acid, a building block of protein. Found in high-protein foods such as meat and fish, methionine is also made in small amounts by our cells, but not in enough quantity to meet the body’s needs.
Good nutrition is key to maintaining adequate methionine levels. Here’s why. Two key B vitamins, B12 and folic acid, are required for the production of methionine. In fact, a deficiency in either one of these vitamins can result in depression and problems in mental function, especially among older people. Much of Terry’s research has centered on the role of these B vitamins in depression in general and in the production of SAM-e in particular. As we will explain later, the two are inextricably linked, and the SAM-e story cannot be told without including these vitamins.
ATP is a high-powered fuel that is produced by the cells to provide energy to run the body. It is present in almost every cell and provides the juice to run all of the body’s machinery. There is plenty of it to go around.
The product of this marriage of methionine and ATP is SAM-e, a molecule essential to many aspects of human health. But SAM-e levels are not evenly distributed among all humans. Blood levels of SAM-e are seven times higher in children than in adults. Men have slightly higher levels of SAM-e than women do, probably because a considerable amount of SAM-e is produced and consumed in muscle tissue, which is more abundant in men. Levels of SAM-e are notably lower among depressed people of any age.
SAM-e deficiencies are also common in people with neurological problems such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and HIV complications that can lead to dementia. Terry, who, as noted in Chapter 1, did his Ph.D. on SAM-e in 1982, was one of the first scientists to study this remarkable molecule in connection with the central nervous system and, more specifically, its role in regulating mood and mental function. Recently, Terry discovered that levels of SAM-e are lower in the cerebrospinal fluid of people with neurological complications like depression due to severe vitamin B12 or folate deficiency. Low levels of SAM-e in cerebrospinal. fluid, as we have seen, indicates an inadequate amount in the brain. Clearly, these are compelling reasons not to let your SAM-e levels fall below normal.
SAM-e Turns On Key Reactions
SAM-e’s key role in a process called the methylation cycle makes it absolutely essential for human health. Methylation, a term for a basic yet critical chemical reaction in the body, is the passing of what is known in chemistry as a methyl group-one carbon and three hydrogen atoms-from one molecule to another. Methylation is as vital to human life as breathing. It is an "on-off ‘switch that activates more than a hundred different processes in the body, from producing important neurotransmitters that allow brain cells to communicate, to preserving bone health, to protecting against heart disease. Methylation activity declines as we age, resulting in a slowdown of these vital activ