Melatonin: What You Didn’t Know


The master hormone, melatonin, is secreted by the pineal gland in response to darkness. It is why you shouldn’t turn your lights on or look at a screen if you are struggling to sleep at night. Melatonin has lots of important uses. Here are a few of the big ones (you might only know the first two).

1. Insomnia

A large body of evidence shows that melatonin helps people to both fall asleep and to have a better-quality sleep. An important bonus is that it does this without causing a hangover effect the next morning like drugs do. It works best in elderly insomniacs with low levels of melatonin. In any group, melatonin only helps when melatonin levels are low (Z Gerontol Geriatr 2001;34:491-497).

One placebo-controlled study found that melatonin helps young adults who are not suffering from insomnia to fall asleep faster with no hangover effect (Clin Pharmacol Ther 1995;57:552-8). Kids with chronic insomnia fell asleep faster when they were given 5 mg of melatonin at 7 p.m. for a month (J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 2003;42(11):1286-93). A double-blind study of healthy males found that melatonin made you fall asleep significantly faster and to sleep significantly longer (Proc Natl Acad Sci U.S.A. 1994;91:1824-1828).

Other research has found melatonin to improve sleep in the elderly (J Am Geriatr Soc 1996;44:51; J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2001;86:4727-30). A double-blind study found that taking 2 mg of melatonin two hours before bed for three weeks improved sleep quality and morning alertness significantly better than a placebo. The improvement in time to fall asleep was significant and equal to the most commonly used sleeping medications. Melatonin also significantly improved quality of life (Curr Med Res Opin 2007;23:2597-605).

In a review of six double-blind studies, four found that melatonin caused people to fall asleep significantly faster, and three others found improvement in other measures of sleep quality. The melatonin worked best in elderly insomniacs with low levels of melatonin (Z Gerontol Geriatr 2001;34:491-7). When 354 elderly men and women were given 2 mg of melatonin two hours before bed for three weeks, they had improved quality of sleep and morning alertness. They fell asleep 24.3 minutes faster versus 12.9 on placebo. It significantly improved their quality of life (Curr Med Res Opin 2007;23:2597-605).

When people between the ages of 18 and 80 were given melatonin in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, melatonin reduced the average time to fall asleep by 15.4 minutes compared to 5.5 minutes in the placebo group in people over 55. Other measures of sleep quality improved significantly in all ages (Curr Med Res Opin 2011;27:87-98).

2. Jet Lag

Several studies show that melatonin works for jet lag if you use it right. And right seems to be taking 5 mg in the evening for five days after you arrive at your destination (Bio Psych 1993). In a double-blind study, 5 mg of melatonin taken three days before the flight, during the flight and three days after the flight reduced jet lag. People on melatonin also needed fewer days to get back to a normal sleep pattern, to not feel tired during the day and to get back to normal energy levels (BMJ 1989;298(6675):705-7).

Much lower doses, it turns out, may work nearly as well. When melatonin was taken once a day at bedtime for four days after an eastward flight, a 5 mg dose significantly improved sleep quality, time to fall asleep, and the fatigue and daytime sleepiness of jet leg. But a lower dose of .5 mg was almost as effective for the jet lag (Chronobiol Int 1998;15(6):655-66). A systematic review of studies that compared melatonin to a placebo or drug found that it is “remarkably effective in preventing or reducing jet lag.” Again, doses of .5-5 mg had similar effectiveness, except that people fell asleep faster and slept better at 5 mg (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2002).

3. Migraine

In a single-blind study, kids with migraine headaches were given either the drug amitriptyline or melatonin for three months. There was a good response in 82.5 percent of the amitriptyline group and 62 percent of the melatonin group, suggesting that melatonin is effective for migraine, though not as effective as the drug (Iran J Child Neurol 2018;12(1):47-54).

Though melatonin was less effective than amitriptyline in this study of children, it was more effective in a study of adults. A three-month double-blind study gave 25 mg amitriptyline, 3 mg melatonin or placebo to people who experience two to eight migraines a month. Melatonin reduced the number of headache days by 2.7 versus 2.2 for amitriptyline and 1.1 for placebo. More people responded to the melatonin than to the amitriptyline, and it was better tolerated. While those on amitriptyline had significant weight gain, those on melatonin lost weight (J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 2016; 87(10):1127- 32).

Melatonin may be able to help cluster (Cephalalgia 1996;16:494-6) and other kinds of headaches too (Funct Neurol 2016;8:1-5). A recent study adds tension-type headaches, the most common type of headache, to the list. Sixty-one people with chronic tension-type headaches took 3 mg of melatonin at bedtime for 30 days. And they had a significant decrease in the number of days they suffered headaches. They also had a significant decrease in pain intensity, not to mention anxiety and depression. Melatonin also significantly decreased the impact headaches had on their ability to function. Not surprisingly, the melatonin also improved the quality of their sleep. The melatonin was also safe to use (Pain Ther 2020;9(2):741-750).

4. Cancer

A systematic review found that, at one year, melatonin decreases the risk of death from solid tumours (J Pineal Res 2005;39:360-6). Recent research presented at a conference of the American Association for Cancer Research has found that men who have higher levels of melatonin have a significant 75 percent reduced risk of developing advanced prostate cancer than men who have lower levels. Higher levels of melatonin also led to a nonsignificant 31 percent reduced risk of overall prostate cancer (AACR-Prostate Cancer Foundation Conference on Advances in Cancer Research, January 18-21, 2014). 20 mg of melatonin each night added to conventional drugs has been shown to reduce PSA levels even when the drugs alone didn’t work (Eur Urol 1997;31:178-81).

In a study of people with metastatic stage IV lung cancer, adding 20 mg of melatonin to chemo led to significantly higher rates of tumour regression and survival than chemo alone. Two years into the study, none of the chemo only people were still alive: nearly 40 percent of the melatonin group was. The ones on melatonin also had fewer side effects (J Pineal Res 2003;35(1):12-5).

A study of metastatic colorectal cancer compared chemo alone to chemo plus 20 mg a day of melatonin. Significant tumour shrinkage was achieved in 44 percent of the chemo group and 86 percent of the chemo plus melatonin group (Anticancer Res 2003;23(2C):1951-4).

When added to chemotherapy, melatonin also improves response in people with metastatic breast cancer, GI (gastrointestinal) cancers and head and neck cancers. Adding it to conventional treatment also helps in non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, multiple myeloma and leukemia. Melatonin can also help prevent the weight loss and wasting of cancer (Eur J Cancer 1996;32A:1340-3).

5. COVID

The newest use of melatonin is for COVID-19. A double-blind study gave 44 people with mild to moderate COVID-19 standard care or standard care plus 3 mg of melatonin three times a day for 14 days. The ones given melatonin had significantly greater improvement in cough, difficulty breathing, fatigue and pulmonary involvement. They also had lower levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein than the control group. Most importantly, people on melatonin were discharged from hospital significantly faster and returned to normal health significantly faster (Arch Med Res 2021 Jun 23;S0188-4409(21)00141-7).

In a subgroup of patients in the same study, melatonin was also shown to reduce inflammatory cytokines and modulate the immune system (Eur J Pharmacol 2021 Aug 5;904:174193)

Other

Melatonin may also help reduce free radical damage and protect against skeletal muscle free radical damage in athletes (Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 2017;42(7):700-707). In postmenopausal women, melatonin may increase bone mineral density (J Pineal Res 2015;59(2):221-9), and may decrease fat and increase lean mass (Clin Endocrinol 2016;84(3):342-7).

A double-blind study found that melatonin significantly improved cognitive function and sleep quality in people with Alzheimer’s disease: especially if they had insomnia (Clin Interv Aging 2014;9:947–61). A second study has also suggested that melatonin may improve cognitive function and sleep in people with Alzheimer’s (J Nippon Med Sch 2003;70:334-41). VR

Linda Woolven is a master herbalist, acupuncturist and solution-focused counsellor with a virtual practice in Toronto, ON, Canada. Woolven and Ted Snider are the authors of several books on natural health. You can see their books at www.thenaturalpathnewsletter.com. They are also the authors of the natural health newsletter The Natural Path. The Natural Path is a natural health newsletter specifically designed to help health food stores increase their sales by educating their customers. The Natural Path contains no advertising and never mentions a brand name. To increase your sales by educating your customers, start giving The Natural Path Newsletter to your customers today. Contact Snider at tedsnider@bell.net or (416)782-8211.

The master hormone, melatonin, is secreted by the pineal gland in response to darkness. It is why you shouldn’t turn your lights on or look at a screen if you are struggling to sleep at night. Melatonin has lots of important uses. Here are a few of the big ones (you might only know the first two).

1. Insomnia

A large body of evidence shows that melatonin helps people to both fall asleep and to have a better-quality sleep. An important bonus is that it does this without causing a hangover effect the next morning like drugs do. It works best in elderly insomniacs with low levels of melatonin. In any group, melatonin only helps when melatonin levels are low (Z Gerontol Geriatr 2001;34:491-497).

One placebo-controlled study found that melatonin helps young adults who are not suffering from insomnia to fall asleep faster with no hangover effect (Clin Pharmacol Ther 1995;57:552-8). Kids with chronic insomnia fell asleep faster when they were given 5 mg of melatonin at 7 p.m. for a month (J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 2003;42(11):1286-93). A double-blind study of healthy males found that melatonin made you fall asleep significantly faster and to sleep significantly longer (Proc Natl Acad Sci U.S.A. 1994;91:1824-1828).

Other research has found melatonin to improve sleep in the elderly (J Am Geriatr Soc 1996;44:51; J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2001;86:4727-30). A double-blind study found that taking 2 mg of melatonin two hours before bed for three weeks improved sleep quality and morning alertness significantly better than a placebo. The improvement in time to fall asleep was significant and equal to the most commonly used sleeping medications. Melatonin also significantly improved quality of life (Curr Med Res Opin 2007;23:2597-605).

SR Carnosyn
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In a review of six double-blind studies, four found that melatonin caused people to fall asleep significantly faster, and three others found improvement in other measures of sleep quality. The melatonin worked best in elderly insomniacs with low levels of melatonin (Z Gerontol Geriatr 2001;34:491-7). When 354 elderly men and women were given 2 mg of melatonin two hours before bed for three weeks, they had improved quality of sleep and morning alertness. They fell asleep 24.3 minutes faster versus 12.9 on placebo. It significantly improved their quality of life (Curr Med Res Opin 2007;23:2597-605).

When people between the ages of 18 and 80 were given melatonin in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, melatonin reduced the average time to fall asleep by 15.4 minutes compared to 5.5 minutes in the placebo group in people over 55. Other measures of sleep quality improved significantly in all ages (Curr Med Res Opin 2011;27:87-98).

2. Jet Lag

Several studies show that melatonin works for jet lag if you use it right. And right seems to be taking 5 mg in the evening for five days after you arrive at your destination (Bio Psych 1993). In a double-blind study, 5 mg of melatonin taken three days before the flight, during the flight and three days after the flight reduced jet lag. People on melatonin also needed fewer days to get back to a normal sleep pattern, to not feel tired during the day and to get back to normal energy levels (BMJ 1989;298(6675):705-7).

Much lower doses, it turns out, may work nearly as well. When melatonin was taken once a day at bedtime for four days after an eastward flight, a 5 mg dose significantly improved sleep quality, time to fall asleep, and the fatigue and daytime sleepiness of jet leg. But a lower dose of .5 mg was almost as effective for the jet lag (Chronobiol Int 1998;15(6):655-66). A systematic review of studies that compared melatonin to a placebo or drug found that it is “remarkably effective in preventing or reducing jet lag.” Again, doses of .5-5 mg had similar effectiveness, except that people fell asleep faster and slept better at 5 mg (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2002).

3. Migraine

In a single-blind study, kids with migraine headaches were given either the drug amitriptyline or melatonin for three months. There was a good response in 82.5 percent of the amitriptyline group and 62 percent of the melatonin group, suggesting that melatonin is effective for migraine, though not as effective as the drug (Iran J Child Neurol 2018;12(1):47-54).

Though melatonin was less effective than amitriptyline in this study of children, it was more effective in a study of adults. A three-month double-blind study gave 25 mg amitriptyline, 3 mg melatonin or placebo to people who experience two to eight migraines a month. Melatonin reduced the number of headache days by 2.7 versus 2.2 for amitriptyline and 1.1 for placebo. More people responded to the melatonin than to the amitriptyline, and it was better tolerated. While those on amitriptyline had significant weight gain, those on melatonin lost weight (J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 2016; 87(10):1127- 32).

Melatonin may be able to help cluster (Cephalalgia 1996;16:494-6) and other kinds of headaches too (Funct Neurol 2016;8:1-5). A recent study adds tension-type headaches, the most common type of headache, to the list. Sixty-one people with chronic tension-type headaches took 3 mg of melatonin at bedtime for 30 days. And they had a significant decrease in the number of days they suffered headaches. They also had a significant decrease in pain intensity, not to mention anxiety and depression. Melatonin also significantly decreased the impact headaches had on their ability to function. Not surprisingly, the melatonin also improved the quality of their sleep. The melatonin was also safe to use (Pain Ther 2020;9(2):741-750).

4. Cancer

A systematic review found that, at one year, melatonin decreases the risk of death from solid tumours (J Pineal Res 2005;39:360-6). Recent research presented at a conference of the American Association for Cancer Research has found that men who have higher levels of melatonin have a significant 75 percent reduced risk of developing advanced prostate cancer than men who have lower levels. Higher levels of melatonin also led to a nonsignificant 31 percent reduced risk of overall prostate cancer (AACR-Prostate Cancer Foundation Conference on Advances in Cancer Research, January 18-21, 2014). 20 mg of melatonin each night added to conventional drugs has been shown to reduce PSA levels even when the drugs alone didn’t work (Eur Urol 1997;31:178-81).

In a study of people with metastatic stage IV lung cancer, adding 20 mg of melatonin to chemo led to significantly higher rates of tumour regression and survival than chemo alone. Two years into the study, none of the chemo only people were still alive: nearly 40 percent of the melatonin group was. The ones on melatonin also had fewer side effects (J Pineal Res 2003;35(1):12-5).

A study of metastatic colorectal cancer compared chemo alone to chemo plus 20 mg a day of melatonin. Significant tumour shrinkage was achieved in 44 percent of the chemo group and 86 percent of the chemo plus melatonin group (Anticancer Res 2003;23(2C):1951-4).

When added to chemotherapy, melatonin also improves response in people with metastatic breast cancer, GI (gastrointestinal) cancers and head and neck cancers. Adding it to conventional treatment also helps in non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, multiple myeloma and leukemia. Melatonin can also help prevent the weight loss and wasting of cancer (Eur J Cancer 1996;32A:1340-3).

5. COVID

The newest use of melatonin is for COVID-19. A double-blind study gave 44 people with mild to moderate COVID-19 standard care or standard care plus 3 mg of melatonin three times a day for 14 days. The ones given melatonin had significantly greater improvement in cough, difficulty breathing, fatigue and pulmonary involvement. They also had lower levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein than the control group. Most importantly, people on melatonin were discharged from hospital significantly faster and returned to normal health significantly faster (Arch Med Res 2021 Jun 23;S0188-4409(21)00141-7).

In a subgroup of patients in the same study, melatonin was also shown to reduce inflammatory cytokines and modulate the immune system (Eur J Pharmacol 2021 Aug 5;904:174193)

Other

Melatonin may also help reduce free radical damage and protect against skeletal muscle free radical damage in athletes (Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 2017;42(7):700-707). In postmenopausal women, melatonin may increase bone mineral density (J Pineal Res 2015;59(2):221-9), and may decrease fat and increase lean mass (Clin Endocrinol 2016;84(3):342-7).

A double-blind study found that melatonin significantly improved cognitive function and sleep quality in people with Alzheimer’s disease: especially if they had insomnia (Clin Interv Aging 2014;9:947–61). A second study has also suggested that melatonin may improve cognitive function and sleep in people with Alzheimer’s (J Nippon Med Sch 2003;70:334-41). VR

Linda Woolven is a master herbalist, acupuncturist and solution-focused counsellor with a virtual practice in Toronto, ON, Canada. Woolven and Ted Snider are the authors of several books on natural health. You can see their books at www.thenaturalpathnewsletter.com. They are also the authors of the natural health newsletter The Natural Path. The Natural Path is a natural health newsletter specifically designed to help health food stores increase their sales by educating their customers. The Natural Path contains no advertising and never mentions a brand name. To increase your sales by educating your customers, start giving The Natural Path Newsletter to your customers today. Contact Snider at tedsnider@bell.net or (416)782-8211.





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