Aging is a normal part of life. Mistakenly, however, people think of aging as a pathologic condition. Because of this mindset, people often remedy signs of aging with Botox®, anti-wrinkle crèmes, or facelifts. While it’s a personal choice to improve the way one looks on the outside, aging well begins on the inside. The typical American diet is a major promoter of advanced aging. It triggers hostile free radicals and pro-inflammatory molecules, which damage DNA and pollutes the body’s detoxifying systems.
DNA, as I’ve mentioned, is not set in stone. The epigenome is a layer of molecules that lay above the genome; the epigenome interfaces with the environment (e.g., air, food, water, and stress) to activate or deactivate genes. Such epigenomic interactions can support health or trigger disease. Many important compounds activate good genes in the body. But as we age these substances become depleted, so it’s helpful to incorporate these bioactive molecules in our diet either through foods or supplements.
S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) is a compound that is found throughout the body, and it’s needed for normal biochemical reactions in the body. With age, however, it’s levels decrease rendering several functions deficient. As its name suggests, SAMe contains methyl groups (organic molecules that consist of three carbons and one hydrogen molecule), which makes it a methyl donor. Methylation is an epigenetic process; it is required for the synthesis of many crucial chemical reactions in the body. As a methyl donor, SAMe is involved in the synthesis of the nucleic acids, hormones, proteins, neurotransmitters, and phospholipids. As a result, SAMe has a wide-range of functions in the body:
- Regulates gene expression and DNA repair
- Maintains cellular support, structure, and fluidity
- Facilitates metabolic processes
- Synthesizes and recycles hormones and neurotransmitters
Besides methylating chemical reactions, SAMe is a potent detoxifier too. It synthesizes glutathione (a powerful fighter against free radical damage in the body). Glutathione is plentiful in the liver, which detoxifies the body from the barrage of toxic attacks on a daily basis. By replenishing glutathione, SAMe also supports the liver’s health. SAMe also enhances another powerful antioxidant—superoxide dismutase. It also produces polyamines, which are compounds involved in supporting the cell cycle and initiating apoptosis (programmed cell death). SAMe acts as an anti-aging compound. The activity of SAMe in the body has been shown to help slow down the effects of chronic disease and advanced aging in various studies.
Scientists have recognized the effects of SAMe as an antidepressant that is well tolerated and has few side effects. A review of clinical trials shows that Cymbalta fails to treat 23% of patients who are taking the medication for their depression.1 However, patients taking SAMe experienced a significant improvement in their mood.2,3 (Remember SAMe synthesizes cell signaling molecules such as serotonin, which at low levels has been associated with depression.)
SAMe is also helpful in treating chronic, age-related conditions, such as insomnia, neurodegenerative diseases. In people with sleep disorders, SAMe has been shown to boost melatonin (sleep-associated hormone) by converting N-acetylserotonin to melatonin.4 Melatonin is a gero-protector because it has been associated with promoting longevity.4 In neurodegenerative disease, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, SAMe has strong antioxidant activity that helps to improve cognitive function and prevent neurodegeneration.5,6
In integrative medicine, patients’ levels for key health-promoting compounds are evaluated. Patients with low levels of important nutrients such as SAMe will develop chronic health problems because their bodies aren’t equipped to fight the toxic burdens it’s faced with on a daily basis. SAMe supplements will help modify genes to promote wellness and keep biochemical disturbances (e.g., oxidative stress and inflammation) at bay.
1. Gueorguieva R, Mallinckrodt C, Krystal JH. Trajectories of depression severity in clinical trials of duloxetine: insights into antidepressant and placebo responses. Archives of general psychiatry. 2011;68(12):1227-1237.
2. Salmaggi P, Bressa G, Nicchia G, Coniglio M, La Greca P, Le Grazie C. Double-blind, placebo-controlled study of S-adenosyl-L-methionine in depressed postmenopausal women. Psychotherapy and psychosomatics. 1993;59(1):34-40.
3. Fava M, Giannelli A, Rapisarda V, Patralia A, Guaraldi GP. Rapidity of onset of the antidepressant effect of parenteral S-adenosyl-L-methionine. Psychiatry research. 1995;56(3):295-297.
4. Sandrock AW, Leblanc GG, Wong DL, Ciaranello RD. Regulation of Rat Pineal Hydroxyindole‐O‐Methyltransferase: Evidence of S‐Adenosylmethionine‐Mediated Glucocorticoid Control. Journal of neurochemistry. 1980;35(3):536-543.
5. Bottiglieri T, Godfrey P, Flynn T, Carney M, Toone B, Reynolds E. Cerebrospinal fluid S-adenosylmethionine in depression and dementia: effects of treatment with parenteral and oral S-adenosylmethionine. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. 1990;53(12):1096-1098.
6. Obeid R, Schadt A, Dillmann U, Kostopoulos P, Fassbender K, Herrmann W. Methylation status and neurodegenerative markers in Parkinson disease. Clinical chemistry. 2009;55(10):1852-1860.