In one of my recent posts on Anxiety Connection I talked about the recent Consumer Reports review of supplements where they listed their dirty dozen of supplements to avoid. Included in their list of potentially dangerous supplements used to treat mood or anxiety symptoms was Kava and Yohimbe. Along with their list of supplements to avoid, Consumer Reports also reported on eleven supplements you may wish to consider. Just go to their website to read both lists in detail. Their list of supplements to consider (as being safe and possibly effective at the right dosage) includes two for mental health: SAM-e and St. John's wort. In my discussion of these supplements I will also offer some personal perspective as I have tried both of them. But before we begin, I wish to provide a little disclaimer.
Disclaimer: Remember that any time you take a supplement you are taking a risk since herbal products and supplements are not regulated by the FDA. Just because it is "natural" doesn't mean there won't be side effects. Long term effects may be unknown. Always tell your doctor about any supplements you are taking. Do your homework and research any supplements before taking them
I was just talking about this supplement with my doctor. You always have to tell them what medications or supplements you are taking and I told them I was taking SAM-e. I had to spell it as they had no idea what I was talking about. Whereas everyone seems to have heard about St. John's Wort, it seems very few people recognize the name SAM-e. When I was on the Dr. Oz show last year, speaking about my personal experiences of suffering from depression, I talked about how SAM-e has helped to uplift my mood. This little known supplement is getting more press coverage lately and I will share some of these reports with you.
SAM-e in the Media
SAM-e is one of the supplements included in the recent Consumer Reports "supplements to consider" list. They say it is likely to be effective in reducing the symptoms of major depression. In addition it may also reduce pain and improve functioning for people who suffer from osteoarthritis.
In a 2007 Oprah radio interview, talk show host Dr. Oz spoke with Dr. Mischoulon, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard University, about over the counter remedies for depression. If you listen to the interview it is clear that the doctor would not consider supplements to be a first line defense against depression symptoms but may be used when prescription antidepressants are only partially effective or have too many adverse side effects for the patient. SAM-e was one supplement discussed as having potential benefits for depression sufferers.
- One of the most comprehensive listings of news reports on SAM-e can be found on the Mood Disorders Support Group of New York City web site. Here you will find links to news articles about SAM-e from Newsweek, Time magazine, and more.
Possible Side Effects and Precautions
- Reported potential side effects described in the literature include: Upset stomach, headache, mild insomnia, dizziness, and nervousness.
- Should not be taken with the cough suppressant dextromethorphan, certain antidepressants, narcotic pain relievers, or the Parkinson's drug levodopa.
- There is some confusion out there about whether or not SAM-e will alter the homocysteine levels in your body. Why be concerned about this? Homocysteine is a derivative of the amino acid methionine and may contribute to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) by producing irritation and inflammation in the inner lining of arteries. Some reports say that one way to prevent this possible side effect is to take a combination of B vitamins and folic acid to prevent this potential build up of homocysteine.
My personal experience using SAM-e
I have been taking SAM-e for over two years now and I have nothing but good things to say about my experience. I began by taking 200mg and then over time upped my dosage to 400 mg. That seemed to make all the difference in the world as far as effectiveness. The primary effect this supplement has on me is to even out the extreme moods I would feel without it. SAM-e appears to take the edge off things and allows me to handle upsets with greater ease. It worked fairly quickly for me and only took a week or so before I felt a change in mood. I felt more productive and able to get out of bed in the morning and do things. The only side effect I have experienced is an upset stomach on a rare occasion.
You can read more about my experience of taking SAM-e by reading the following articles:
St. John's Wort If you haven't heard about St. John's wort you may be living in a cave. St. John's wort is probably the most talked about and researched supplement within the mental health arena. It has gotten some bad press in recent years for being ineffective, as reported by some research studies. But then other clinical research will come back to conclude that it is effective in treating mild to moderate depression. What to believe? This is where you have to do your homework and make the decision for yourself. In the meantime here are some links to St. John's wort in the media.
St. John's Wort in the Media
- St. John's wort was one of the eleven supplements Consumer Reports recommended as one you may one to try. They report that there is strong scientific evidence that this supplement is effective for treating mild to moderate depression.
This ABC health video shows Dr. Brent Bauer of the Mayo Clinic as saying that St. John's wort may be beneficial for treating mild to moderate depression.
The National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine report that according to one literature review: "" St. John's wort extracts appeared to be superior to placebo, were as effective as standard antidepressants, and had fewer side effects than antidepressants."
- Yet he National Institutes of Health also reported that a 2002 study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that St. John's wort was no more effective for treating moderate depression than placebo.
Possible Side Effects and Precautions
- Some of the possible side effects as reported in the literature include: Stomach upset, fatigue, insomnia, restlessness, anxiety, irritability, dizziness, headache, skin rash, and diarrhea. Consumer Reports gives a detailed list of side effects.
- The National Institutes of Health provide a lengthy list of medications you should not take with St. John's wort including Xanax, some antidepressants, as well as narcotics used for pain management. They also report that taking St. John's wort with some types of birth control pills may decrease their effectiveness.
- The FDA website reports that there is a risk of drug interactions between St. John's wort and indinavir, a protease inhibitor used to treat HIV infection. There may also be other potential adverse drug interactions. You can read the full report on the FDA website.
- A very thorough listing of possible side effects and drug interactions to St. John's wort can be found in this 2003 review published in the journal, The Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine.
My experience taking St. John's wort
I had first heard about St. John's wort back in the nineties when I was in therapy. My therapist knew of my reluctance to take traditional prescription antidepressants so he recommended St. John's wort. I tried it and found that it had a sedating effect on me. It sometimes made me feel sleepy during the day and my sleep was somewhat disrupted at night. I didn't notice any dramatic effect on my mood so I discontinued taking it after several months. I tried it again some years later only to experience the same results. Some people swear by it though so it goes to show you that what works for some may not work for all.
Another supplement to read about"
It wasn't included in the Consumer Reports recommended supplement list but there is another supplement which you may want to read about called Rhodiola Rosea. I just wrote an extensive post about this herbal product on our anxiety site. Rhodiola Rosea is reported to decrease both anxiety and depression symptoms and appears to have very little side effects.
Now it is your turn! Do you take any supplements or herbal products to treat your depression? Tell us all about it. The more we share with one another, the more we learn. We hope to hear from you.