S-adenosylmethionine, or SAMe, is an over-the-counter dietary supplement that's a synthetic version of a compound found naturally in the human body. Besides being used to treat osteoarthritis and liver disease, some practitioners have recommended it to treat depression. But is it a legitimate treatment? And does it have any advantages over other, more conventional forms of treatment?

Based on a broad overview of depression studies that included treatment with SAMe, the answer is yes--SAMe can benefit depression sufferers. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality conducted a search of published reports on the use of SAMe in treating depression and discovered 47 different studies. A trained team of researchers combed through the data, removing duplicate studies and studies whose quality was questionable, and ended up with 28 studies they deemed appropriate. The results indicated that SAMe offered the study participants who took it measurable relief from depression symptoms compared with the participants who took a placebo. However, compared to treatment with conventional antidepressant drugs, SAMe did not offer any significant benefits.

If you're interested in exploring treatment with SAMe, speak to your doctor. Be aware that SAMe has not been sanctioned by the Food and Drug Administration and may cause some side effects, including nausea and other digestive ills, rashes, low blood sugar, dryness in the mouth, thirst, increased urination, headache, insomnia, anxiety, and blood in the stool. It's not recommended for women who are pregnant or nursing or for people with Parkinson's disease. And since it's been associated with mania and hypomania, it's particularly important for people with bipolar disorder or other anxiety disorders to take SAMe only under careful supervision from a doctor.