SAMe stand for S-adenosylmethionine. It is closely related to the ATP molecule, which the body uses for energy for the cells. When ATP combines with the amino acid methionine, S-adenosylmethionine is formed.
SAMe was discovered in Italy in 1952. First investigated as a treatment for depression, along the way it was accidentally noted to improve arthritis symptoms, which was a positive “side-effect.” SAMe is presently classed with glucosamine and chondroitin as a potential “chondroprotective” agent, one that can go beyond treating symptoms to actually slowing the progression of arthritis.
Unfortunately, there is little information about whether SAMe is beneficial in our pet dogs and cats. Some holistic veterinarians have seen good results when SAMe was used to treat canine cognitive dysfunction. Anecdotally, several large breed dogs treated at 200 mg twice daily showed improvement of 50 percent or more. Owners reported better results than when using Anipryl or Ginkgo biloba.
The recommended human dosages range from 600 to 1,600 mg/day. Check with your vet for proper dosage for your pet.
In people, the result of one double-blind placebo-controlled study showed that SAMe was more effective at relieving pain than the placebo and as effective as the NSAID naproxen. In this study, naproxen worked faster than SAMe (which took four weeks to achieve effect). At the end of the study, both treatments produced positive benefit. However, naproxen produced more side effects, namely gastrointestinal distress (a common side effect of potent NSAIDs).
Another similar study compared SAMe to the potent NSAID piroxicam, with similar results and positive effects for the SAMe.
It is unknown exactly how SAMe is effective when treating osteoarthritis, but there are some theories. SAMe does show anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. Additionally, laboratory research (in the test tube) suggests SAMe might work similar to glycosaminoglycans such as glucosamine and chondroitin by stimulating cartilage cells to produce more proteoglycans. This research suggests the possibility that SAMe might help heal the joints as well as relieve pain and inflammation. In one study in rabbits in which surgery was performed on the joint in an attempt to cause arthritis, SAMe-treated rabbits showed protection against the development of arthritis when compared to control animals. The treated rabbits had thicker cartilage, more joint cartilage cells, and higher proteoglycan levels.
While SAMe shows promise as a treatments for osteoarthritis, it does not appear effective for other forms of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis.
SAMe also has some positive side effects. It appears effective as an antidepressant (and is used in people for this reason) and protects the lining of the stomach and offers protection of the liver against various toxins.
Regarding the safety of SAMe, there is good news here. Current evidence suggests the toxicity is as close to zero as possible, making SAMe much safer than any drug currently used to treat osteoarthritis. However, some people can develop mild stomach distress if they start full dosages of SAMe at once.
Safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease had not been established. However, SAMe has been given to pregnant women in scientific studies, with no ill effects. Until more investigation is done in dogs and cats, these same precautions should probably be followed.