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Give Antidepressants a Boost

Give Antidepressants a Boost

Healthnotes Newswire (January 6, 2005)— People taking antidepressant medications who continue to suffer from the symptoms of depression can benefit from the dietary supplement S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe), according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology (2004;24:661–4).

Depression is a mental health disorder characterized by unhappy, hopeless feelings. Symptoms include an unrelenting depressed mood, loss of interest in activities, body weight loss or gain, insomnia or excessive sleeping, fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt, and inability to concentrate. Thoughts of suicide are a sign of severe depression.

Antidepressant medications are used to treat chronic and severe depression. These medications usually work by increasing levels of serotonin or norepinephrine, chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) that calm or excite the nervous system and improve mood. Some of these medications can cause serious and uncomfortable side effects, including sexual dysfunction; however, they are generally effective at relieving the symptoms of depression. Nonetheless, some people diagnosed with depression do not respond to these medications; adding a second type of antidepressant medication is sometimes helpful to these people.

SAMe is a chemical produced in the body from the amino acid methionine. SAMe appears to raise levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate moods. Most, though not all, controlled trials have found that supplementing with SAMe can be an effective treatment for depression. Results from two studies suggest that SAMe might speed up the response to antidepressant medications in some depressed people.

Twenty-three people with depression participated in the current study. All had been taking serotonin-enhancing antidepressants for at least four weeks but were still suffering from depressive symptoms when they entered the study. The participants added 400 mg of SAMe two times per day at the beginning of the study. After two weeks, the amount of SAMe was increased to 800 mg two times per day for an additional four weeks. Symptoms were evaluated weekly for the first four weeks and at six weeks. Several rating scales were used to analyze depressive symptoms and all showed significant improvement at the end of the study compared with the beginning. Sexual function scores also improved significantly from the beginning to the end of the study.

The results of this study suggest that SAMe might be helpful in people with depression who do not respond to treatment with one antidepressant medication. It is possible, however, that some of the participants in this study merely had a delayed response to their initial antidepressant medication. Placebo-controlled trials are therefore needed before SAMe can be recommended as an adjunctive therapy.

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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