By Donna Gregory Burch
Without a doubt, SAM-e is the greatest gift that my fibromyalgia doctor has given me. Over the last nine months, it’s become one of my go-to supplements for managing daily fibro symptoms.
Also known as S-adenosylmethionine, SAM-e is a compound that occurs naturally in the body and is necessary for several bodily functions. (This article gives a more detailed explanation of SAM-e’s role in the body.) Supplement companies have found a way to replicate this compound, and SAM-e is readily available at most drugstores in the United States as an over-the-counter supplement. There’s some evidence that our bodies may lose the ability to effectively make SAM-e as we age, so supplementation could be helpful.
In research studies, SAM-e is proven to reduce the symptoms of depression and osteoarthritis – without the troublesome side effects of prescription antidepressants and NSAIDS, respectively.
A couple of studies have shown SAM-e could be promising for fibromyalgia. According to a 1991 Danish study, fibromyalgia patients who took 800 mg of SAM-e daily reported less pain, fatigue and morning stiffness, improved mood and fewer overall symptoms after six weeks of use. A 1987 Italian study found SAM-e reduced depression and the number of trigger points in fibromyalgia patients. A short 10-day Danish study involving intravenous SAM-e did not show any benefit for fibromyalgia, but that could have been because SAM-e may need several weeks to reach full effectiveness.
All of these studies involved small numbers of patients and were not double-blind, placebo controlled. Researchers have concluded more studies are needed to determine if SAM-e is beneficial for fibromyalgia. Unfortunately, those larger, placebo-controlled studies will probably never happen because there’s little profit to be made from a $30 drugstore supplement.
My physician recommended SAM-e as a natural alternative to prescription antidepressants (like Cymbalta and Savella) for relieving my fibromyalgia pain, fatigue and low mood. I started on 200 mg and increased my dosage over several days until I felt a reduction in my symptoms.
I found my sweet spot at 800 mg daily, but dosages up to 1600 mg appear to be well tolerated based on past SAM-e studies. The most commonly reported side effects are gas, upset stomach, diarrhea/constipation, dizziness and anxiety, especially when taken at higher doses.
I experienced dizziness and anxiety while taking 1200 mg of SAM-e, but those side effects disappeared when I lowered my dose. I’ve had no other issues with it.
It’s still unclear exactly how SAM-e works, but it appears to increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, two brain neurotransmitters linked to mood, concentration, pain control and other important bodily functions. Because it affects neurotransmitters, SAM-e is not recommended for people who take prescription antidepressants or other natural antidepressants, like St. John’s Wort. It also might not be safe for those with bipolar disorder, Parkinson’s disease or diabetes.
Within a couple of weeks of starting SAM-e, I felt a noticeable improvement in my mood and energy levels. Unfortunately, it never helped my pain levels. For that, I use other tools.
But I continue to take SAM-e and tell other fibro sufferers about it because it’s nearly eliminated my fibro-related depression, and it enhances my daily stamina/energy. Anyone with fibro knows that we can go to some pretty dark places in our minds, but SAM-e stabilizes my mood so I’m better able to cope with the day-to-day struggles of living with fibromyalgia (and more recently, being diagnosed with Lyme disease).
I know others find SAM-e helpful for pain control, but that hasn’t been my personal experience.
I’m grateful my doctor was open-minded enough to try natural therapies, and SAM-e has become an important tool in my fibro-fighting arsenal.
Now it’s your turn! Have you tried SAM-e for fibromyalgia? Did it help? Please share your experience in the comments section!
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Always seek the counsel of your medical provider before starting or stopping any treatment.
Donna Gregory Burch was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2014 after several years of unexplained pain, fatigue and other symptoms. She covers news, treatments, research and practical tips for living better with fibromyalgia on her blog, FedUpwithFatigue.com. Donna is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared online and in newspapers and magazines throughout Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. She lives in Delaware with her husband and their many fur babies.