Not the SAM-e Old Drug

Introduces the antidepressant called S-adenoslymethionine, or SAM-e. Remarks from Doctor Richard Brown; How the drug works; Other purpose of the antidepressant.

By Norine Dworkin, published July 1, 1999 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016


Move over, St. John's Wort. There's a new natural antidepressant in town. It's called SAM-e, and it boosts more than just mood.

S-adenoslymethionine, or SAM-e (pronounced sammy), is a natural substance our bodies make from the amino acid methionine and the energy-producing compound adenosine triphosphate. SAM-e's blues-fighting abilities have been studied since the 1970s, but it has only been available as a dietary supplement in the U.S. since March.

"There's now an understanding of how the nutritional foundation of the nerves plays a role in how people will respond to antidepressants," says Richard Brown, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and co-author of Stop Depression Now (G.P. Putnam and Sons, 1999). "There's a correlation between low levels of SAM-e and depression."

SAM-e works by increasing levels of feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. Researchers say it's stronger than St. John's Wort and comparable to antidepressant drugs. And SAM-e enhances the action of conventional antidepressants. In a 1992 study, 20 of 40 patients taking the tricyclic antidepressant imipramine were also given 400 mg of SAM-e daily. The other 20 were given a placebo. "The SAM-e group was much better in four days," says Brown.

SAM-e works faster than traditional drugs--and without the side effects. It also relieves arthritis pain and inflammation. Says Brown: "I'd rather give depressed people something that does good things in their bodies as they get older."