Melatonin is a hormone found in all animals, that plays a major role in regulating the “biological clock” — including the
sleep-wake cycle in vertebrate animals. It is produced in the pineal gland of the brain and in many other tissues of the body.
What we can’t tell you
In the U.S. and some other industrialized countries, government agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
have adopted censorship as a method for intensifying their control over the supplement industry and its customers.
Thus, FDA regulations prohibit us from telling you that any of our products are effective as medical treatments,
even if they are, in fact, effective.
Accordingly, we will limit our discussion of Melatonin to a brief summary of relevant research,
and let you draw your own conclusions about what medical conditions it may be effective in treating.
Melatonin’s connection to the sleep-wake cycle was discovered in the 1970s, and it has been studied as a treatment for certain
sleep disorders ever since then. More recently, however, it has been found have applications for a much broader range of problems,
- insomnia, jet lag, and other sleep disorders
- learning under stress
- behavioral disorders in the elderly
- hypertension (high blood pressure)
- aging caused by free radical damage
- chronic pain
- reproductive quality
- esophageal reflux
- oral herpes
- thrombosis with stress
- traumatic injury to the spinal cord and brain
- tissue damage from ionizing radiation
- toxicity from drugs, neural toxins, herbicides, and metals
Let’s look at a few of these applications.
Sleep disorders are classified as either “secondary” (i.e., caused by other medical conditions or by drugs) or “primary” (not
caused by other medical conditions or drugs). Insomnia is by far the most common primary sleep disorder.
Early studies showed that the pineal gland produces more melatonin at night than in the daytime. Darkness itself is the trigger
for this increased melatonin production. Eventually it was realized that melatonin is an important component of the so-called
“biological clock” (aka “the sleep/wake cycle” or “the circadian rhythm”) — a physiological process that controls the feeling
of sleepiness and the ability or need to sleep.
Being a key player in sleep regulation doesn’t necessarily mean that consuming extra melatonin will cause a person to sleep.
Researchers soon tested the idea and reported in 1976 that indeed melatonin supplementation reduces the time required to go
to sleep and to enter deep sleep — if you take it when your body is ready for sleep.
Many such studies have been performed. They were summarized in 2004 in a U.S. government meta-study which concluded that melatonin
is effective in hastening sleep for people with insomnia and other primary sleep disorders; it is effective in increasing
the efficiency of sleep for people with secondary sleep disorders; and it is effective in treating jet-lag.
Some of the secondary sleep disorders for which melatonin supplements have been reported to be beneficial are: insomnia due
to mental disabilities, aging, Angelman Syndrome, or ADHD; and sleep disruption due to hemodialysis.
As a treatment for insomnia, melatonin has been found to work best when taken twenty to forty minutes before bedtime. Doses used in clinical studies range from 0.5 mg to 5 mg. We recommend starting at about 1 mg and increasing the dose over
a period of about a week to a level that produces the desired result.
For treating jet lag, a dose of .5 to 5 mg taken shortly before the desired sleep time has been shown to be effective.
21 children with migraine or chronic tension headaches were given 3 mg of melatonin at bedtime for 3 months. 66% of the children
reported at least a 50% reduction in migraine and tension headaches.
Headache specialists have been talking for years about how promising melatonin might be for treating cluster headaches — and they are still just talking about it. But we don’t need to wait for these foot-draggers to do the obvious thing and run a clinical study — melatonin is cheap and
in most countries can be bought without interference from the government or the medical cartel. People with cluster headaches
can simply conduct their own personal ‘studies’ and in a few days know whether it works for them — instead of waiting ten
years for the medical profession to get its act together.
Antioxidant protection and aging
Melatonin is one of the body’s antioxidants — it scavenges several types of reactive ‘free radicals’ that damage almost any
biological structure they touch: DNA, proteins, fats, and other molecules. The antioxidant functions of melatonin appear to
be unrelated to its hormonal functions — it simply happens to have a dual functionality.
One of the most harmful of the free radicals is peroxynitrite which can damage most of the body’s principal macromolecules. Melatonin combines with peroxynitrites and deactivates them.
Since peroxynitrites are thought to be significant culprits in causing aging, melatonin is an important anti-aging substance.
Free radical damage to the fetus and placenta happens all too often during pregnancy and can produce birth defects or miscarriage.
For example, preeclampsia, which occurs in about 5% of all pregnancies, is a condition in which tissues swell, blood pressure
increases, and oxygen starvation and free radical damage can occur to the fetus. Melatonin, which is able to pass through
the placenta, sweeps up these free radicals and can protect the fetus and maternal tissues from being damaged by them.
Learning under stressful conditions is known to be problematical. Animal studies suggest that melatonin decreases the deleterious effect of stress hormones on learning. Could melatonin supplementation
therefore be used to improve learning ability under stressful conditions? A recent clinical study confirms that it can:
Fifty healthy young men received either a single oral dose of 3 mg melatonin or a placebo. One hour later, they were exposed
to a standardized psychosocial stressor. During stress, subjects memorized objects distributed in the test room, for which
memory was assessed a day later. Melatonin specifically enhanced recognition memory of objects memorized under stress.
Melatonin plays a role in blood pressure regulation — melatonin production normally increases at night and blood pressure
is correspondingly reduced. In people with high blood pressure the nighttime production of melatonin usually reduces blood
pressure even more dramatically than it does in healthy people. However some individuals with high blood pressure do not experience
this increase in melatonin production; their blood pressure remains high during the night, and they have significantly shorter
life-spans. Melatonin supplementation at 2 mg taken 2 hours before bedtime has been found to benefit these latter individuals.
Glaucoma is a neurodegenerative disease, often associated with raised intraocular pressure that damages the optic nerve. Worldwide,
it is the second leading cause of blindness. The loss of vision usually occurs gradually and is often only recognized when
the disease is quite advanced. Once lost, the damaged visual field can never be recovered.
Melatonin and other substances linked to the nervous system that innervates the eye are emerging as interesting candidates
for preventing glaucoma, or for treating it as soon as it is recognized.
Are Melatonin supplements useful for the conditions and purposes mentioned above?
We aren’t allowed to tell you, so you should take a look at some of the references cited here,
and then decide for yourself.