Human beings like other animals tend to function in basic cycles of wakefulness and sleep, mostly sleeping at night and being awake and energetic during the day time. This process of the sleep and wake cycle is called the biological clock, a hormone known as melatonin which is largely produced by the pineal gland in the brain, is responsible for the operation and regulation of this biological clock in mammals. The fact that melatonin facilitates sleep has been proven in double blind research carried out on young adults. In one more clinical study on healthy and young adults, doses of melatonin led to a noticeable reduction in the total time required in falling asleep, melatonin also decreased the number of awakenings at night time in these subjects and seemed to generally improve their quality of sleep. This result is partly contradicted by other researchers, who suggest that melatonin does decrease the time required to fall sleep, but that it leaves other physiological parameters of sleep unchanged.
Since melatonin is a major regulator of the biological clock, doses of melatonin are very helpful in relieving the symptoms due to jet lag - the physiological problems encountered by the body due to the disruption of the biological clock when crossing several time zones. The usefulness of melatonin supplements in treating jet lag has been confirmed in a double blind trial, where more than fifty two international flight crew members were given doses of either melatonin or a placebo for three days immediately prior to and five days following long haul flights. The researchers discovered that the doses of melatonin given to the flight crews very greatly lowered the symptoms from jet lag; doses of melatonin also brought on quicker recovery of energy levels and alertness in the subjects following a long haul flight.
Melatonin also induces other effects in the body and supplements may come in handy in the treatment of other disorders. Elevated pressure in the eyeballs could possibly be treated using melatonin. It has been found in studies that the intake of less than one mg of melatonin immediately lowered elevated pressure in the eyeball of otherwise healthy individuals. This is a significant finding, however, the actual effects of melatonin used on glaucoma patients has not been published as yet - though there are many studies investigating the possibility of using melatonin in treating glaucoma and related disorders. Individuals affected by chronic depression can also benefit from supplementing with melatonin. The results from a preliminary double-blind research indicates that consuming low levels of melatonin, at doses of about 0.125 mg two times a day, can help bring down winter depression in individuals susceptible to the disorder.
Melatonin supplements can also be used in alleviating chronic tension headaches, this was discovered from the experience of some sleep disorder affected individuals, who also suffered from tension headaches - it has been subsequently verified that such headaches can be relieved by taking supplemental melatonin. Supplemental doses of melatonin have also been found to be capable of alleviating the problem of cluster headaches, during a double-blind research, patients afflicted with such headaches were treated using supplements of the hormone. The actual mechanism through which the melatonin brings relief from such headaches remains a mystery. In other actions within the body, the hormone melatonin also affects immunity and general health, the immune system is believed to be regulated in some way by the hormone. Melatonin's regulation of the immune response was attributed by a group of doctors as being the reason for two successful treatments in two people affected by sarcoidosis. Melatonin has also been investigated in other trails; it has been administered to cancer patients in many research trials, to see how its regulation of the immune system can help in the treatment of cancer states. There is a definite link between melatonin and some types of cancers, for example, there is an increased risk for uterine cancer if the blood levels of melatonin is low - this clear connection between the levels of the hormone and the chances of a cancer like state developing in the body has been confirmed in clinical studies. In patients afflicted by prostate cancer, doses of melatonin led to a greatly reduced level of prostate specific antigen - which is a major marker for cancer in the body. In laboratory based studies, the hormone definitely inhibits the growth of breast cancer cells in vitro. At the same time, in one preliminary research the breast cancer of some afflicted women went into remission following melatonin treatment. The survival rate of melanoma patients is greatly increased by melatonin supplements; the hormone also increases the survival rate of people afflicted by brain cancer - it also increases the survival rate of lung cancer patients.
Melatonin has also been found to be useful in treating sleep disorders caused by physical problems. The results from one double-blind trial showed that people who could not sleep due to tinnitus could be made to do so by giving them a dose of three mg melatonin every night - the trail took place over one month, placebos did not produce any results, so the effect is real. Even though, the administration of melatonin doses during the trail did not result in a reduction in the overall symptom scores for tinnitus, some of the subjects with higher symptom scores of tinnitus who took part in the trail did indeed seem to have benefited from the treatment.
The hormone melatonin is mainly synthesized inside the brain, in the pineal gland; however, it is also produced in the tissues of the retinal lens of the eye and the gastrointestinal tract. The absolute blood levels of melatonin vary in the body and tend to correspond with the cyclic rhythm of the night and the day. In general, the greatest melatonin levels can be detected in the blood during the night time. Only minute or trace amounts of the hormone melatonin is detectable in most foods.
As one grows older, the amount of melatonin produced by the body decreases, this could be one explanation for the sleep disorders and difficulty in sleeping that affects so many elderly people. Conversely, this may also explain the reason for the improved sleep of old people given melatonin supplements. On examination, low melatonin is almost always the reason for problems with sleep in insomniacs and sleep deprived people. Though a deficiency of melatonin or even the lowering of blood levels of melatonin is not necessarily evident in the bodies of frequent travelers and shift workers, such people will very likely benefit from supplements of melatonin to resynchronize their individual sleep schedules.
In the healthy human body, melatonin is synthesized and released into the blood stream for several hours every night as a normal part of physiological processes. This cyclic release of hormone is best duplicated using timed release supplements of melatonin to achieve the restoration of the disruption in the biological clock. Good results have been obtained from physiological studies conducted using timed release melatonin capsules. The doses suggested by the majority of doctors practicing natural medicine are about one to three mg of melatonin taken as a single dose one to two hours prior to lying down for the night. Melatonin dosages given to test subjects in clinical studies on people affected by sarcoidosis or cancer are typically on at higher amounts, being about twenty mg of melatonin every night of the study period for each patient.
The use of such high dosage amounts for other purposes must be done only under the careful supervision and advice of a doctor practicing natural medicine professionally. It goes almost without saying that the use of melatonin during the daytime will result in adverse symptoms; supplements of melatonin are strictly for use only at night time.
Very few side effects are connected to supplemental melatonin use and supplements are generally considered safe for everyone, provided it is used for the right purposes. There have been reports of people experiencing symptoms such as disorientation, sleepwalking, as well as morning grogginess and persistent drowsiness while awake. There is also a broad based consensus among clinical researchers about the prohibiting the use of melatonin supplements by certain groups of high risk individuals, these include pregnant women or women, who are breast feeding babies, schizophrenia patients, as well as all individuals affected by some type of autoimmune disease, including disorder known as lupus. Such people must not use supplements of melatonin till more is known about the potential risks involved.
Supplements of about one to five mg of melatonin nightly given to a test group consisting of children affected by neurological disorders resulted in promoting better sleep but also resulted in an actual increase in the rate of seizures. The use of melatonin on children affected by neurological conditions must only be undertaken under the supervision of qualified doctors till more is known about the potential effects of such supplements in these children.
Melatonin has been responsible for a wide variety of physical side effects; these have included the inhibition of fertility and the dampening of libido. It has been said that melatonin supplements can cause damage to the eyes, result in the development of female type breasts in men, and even cause psychosis over prolonged periods of use. However, it must be stated that these assertions have not withstood closer scrutiny and lack solid evidence to back them. Melatonin was unlikely to be the cause of these side effects as none of these claims have been well verified independently nor are they documented in the literature. There is simply no concrete evidence to show that melatonin supplements do indeed cause such drastic problems.
Supplemental melatonin is widely held to promote the quality of sleep in people who use it according to the majority of scientific reports. However, this does not always seem to be the case as in at least one trial, melatonin supplements given to fifteen men actually disrupted sleep patterns in four of them. Clearly, there are unknown factors operating and the use of supplemental melatonin must always be done under supervision.
Supplemental melatonin can be hard to find in the market and will probably require a prescription from a medical doctor if sourced from a drug store. A nutritionally oriented physician may be able to suggest such supplements to people interested in using them.