SAMe May Help Treat Alcohol Liver Disease

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The supplement SAMe, which has been promoted as a treatment for arthritis and depression, may now offer some hope for those who suffer from chronic liver disease.

A study by the University of California researched how the supplement SAMe worked for alcoholics. The study published in the Journal of Hepatology showed that a group of alcoholics who received SAMe had a 30% reduction in deaths and liver transplants, compared with a group of patients who did not receive the supplement.

Research has shown that patients with alcoholic liver disease and other liver disorders have abnormal methionine metabolism, which depletes SAMe. Taking therapeutic doses of SAMe helps reverse that effect, some scientists believe.

Liver disease caused by alcoholism currently has few effective treatments, so any treatment that offers positive results for its treatment is a welcome sign. The other options for treating the liver disease are so limited, that it's important for more doctors to know about SAMe, researchers say.

Liver Disease Is Serious

Here are some important facts about SAMe and liver disease:

  • SAMe, which stands for S-adenosylmethionine, is a compound made primarily in the liver as a byproduct of the metabolism of the amino acid methionine.
  • Over-the-counter preparations of SAMe are not regulated by the federal government for safety or effectiveness.
  • The supplement is sold as a prescription drug for liver disease in most of Europe, but due to a lack of research is not widely accepted in the U.S.
  • Liver disease is a serious condition that requires medical treatment. Patients should not try to self-treat a serious liver condition with SAMe.

Earlier Findings Not Confirmed

It should be noted that the findings in the California study have not been confirmed by later research. Studies involving small numbers of women have indicated that SAMe might be helpful for cholestasis (a liver disorder) during pregnancy, but whether SAMe helps other liver problems has not been proved in clinical trials.

Several small clinical trials have found SAMe helpful in treating cholestasis, but because only a small sample of women have been studied, it has not been established if taking SAMe during pregnancy is safe.

Is SAMe Helpful for Humans?

There is some evidence linking decreased levels of SAMe in the body with the development of liver diseases, and animal studies have suggested that SAMe may be of value for some liver problems.

However, whether SAMe is beneficial for other liver conditions has not been established in studies with human subjects. One long-term study in patients with the alcohol-related liver disease had promising results, but those results have not yet been confirmed by other research.

Thinking About Trying SAMe?

Experts at the National Institutes for Health warn that SAMe should not replace conventional health care, nor used to delay seeing a healthcare professional about a medical condition.

You should consult your healthcare provider if you plan to use SAMe supplements, especially if you are pregnant, nursing a child, take other medications, have bipolar disorder or Parkinson's disease or if you are HIV positive, NIH officials recommend.

Tell your healthcare providers about any and all supplements that you take, so that they can have a complete record of how you are managing your health.


National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. "S-Adenosyl-L-Methionine (SAMe): In Depth." Supplements 17 March 2016

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