The supplement SAMe helps fight treatment resistant depression

August 12, 2010

  The nutritional supplement SAMe sold over-the-counter may help some people with depression that hasn’t gotten better with any other drugs. The researchers from Harvard Medical School found that adding S-Adenosyl Methionine, or SAMe, to patients' antidepressant treatment helped more people with major depression improve their symptoms than those that took an inactive placebo on top of their normal medication.

The supplement also had fewer side effects than medications that are approved by the FDA for people with depression who don't respond to initial antidepressants.

     About 10 percent of people will suffer from major depressive disorder, Harvard researcher Dr Papakostas states that about half of those people won't get better, even after trying a few different antidepressants. While there are a few medications approved by the FDA that these patients can take in addition to standard antidepressants, those drugs — called atypical antipsychotics — can have serious and sometimes life-threatening side effects.

     In the current study Dr. Papakostas and his colleagues gave SAMe to 39 people who had major depressive disorder that hadn't gotten better on antidepressant therapy. These people took 1,600 milligrams of SAMe each day in addition to the antidepressant treatment they were on before the study started. Another group of 34 similar patients took a placebo pill on top of their antidepressants. Neither group knew which treatment they had. The authors then used two standard tests for depression to measure patients' symptoms each week for the next six weeks. SAMe had no serious side effects, and a similar number of patients stopped the study because they didn't like SAMe and because they didn't like the placebo.

     Among the 31 patients taking SAMe and the 24 taking placebo that completed the full six-week study, both depression tests showed that more patients on SAMe than on placebo responded to treatment and got better. Previous studies have shown that SAMe can influence chemicals in the brain and might work as an antidepressant on its own or interact positively with traditional antidepressants. 

     The finding, Dr. Papakostas said, "is exciting because (SAMe) works differently than what we have now — it doesn't seem to be associated with the kind of side effects that FDA-approved treatments for this niche have." But, he said, "like other findings in medicine, it needs to be replicated."  The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. The study is published online July 1, 2010 in the American Journal of Psychiatry.