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.
- Clinical Depression
- Supplemental melatonin has been employed in the treatment of depression in patients. The beneficial effect of supplemental melatonin in alleviating the anxiety and clinical depression that affects postmenopausal women has been confirmed in a recent clinical study. The underlying connection between low melatonin levels in the body and the presence of major forms of clinical depression or panic disorder in people has been confirmed in many clinical studies. In general, it can be stated that low levels of melatonin in the body is responsible for the mild episodic depression in otherwise healthy people and is also the cause of problems in individuals affected by SAD – a Seasonal Affective Disorder, that comes as a mild depression correlating with the fall and the winter, with the periods of shortening day light hours experienced seasonally. The fact that the hormone melatonin brings on a surge in the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin has been confirmed in clinical experiments. Serotonin is the compound that alleviates the physiological symptoms of depressive illnesses, such as those experienced in SAD and other major and mild depressive states. While its benefits at treating depressive states are unquestionable, all depression afflicted individuals must use melatonin with great caution as it can also bring unpredictable side effects. Supplements of the hormone must be appropriately timed with the use of light therapy and sleep phase changes on the part of the patient. Indeed, the clinical depression affecting a patient can actually be aggravated by the sudden disruption of the normal circadian rhythm prevailing in the body if the consumption of the supplements of melatonin timed badly.
- Women in menopause can possibly benefit from taking supplemental melatonin – the hormone will promote and sustain sleep during the state of sudden drop in hormone levels experienced as a part of menopause. As the long term effects of continued melatonin use are unpredictable, all women at the peri- or postmenopausal stage using melatonin supplements to help them regulate their daily sleep patterns must consume the supplements in short stretches of time. This will ensure that complications do not occur.
- Melatonin supplements have been used in treating people affected by sleep disorders including insomnia, and many clinical studies indicate that melatonin supplements really help promote sleep in people with severely disrupted circadian rhythms caused by low melatonin levels such as those observed in the elderly and schizophrenia patients; melatonin supplements also help people overcome sleep disorder problems caused by jet lag, poor vision, or induced by long night shifts – though some of these treatment strategies remain controversial. The effectiveness of melatonin supplements in dealing with and preventing the onset of jet lag is supported by a recently conducted review of the results of all the scientific studies carried out in this regard, in the review it was found that for the most part supplements of melatonin help the coming of jet lag, especially when people crossed five or more time zones on a regular basis. The results from several clinical studies also indicates that when melatonin supplements are consumed for short periods of time involving several days to a few weeks, the effectiveness of melatonin is significantly greater than that achieved by a placebo, or a “dummy pill,” rapidly reducing the amount of time needed to fall asleep. Melatonin also added to the number of hours spent in quality sleeping, and spiked up the level of alertness in the daytime. Moreover, the results from at least one of the studies indicate that supplemental melatonin may really help improve the quality of life of insomniacs and children with learning disabilities affected by insomnia may benefit from supplements according to some experts. The moderate effectiveness of melatonin supplements in treating certain types of insomnia is certainly confirmed by many research studies, however, the effectiveness and safety of long term supplemental use of melatonin remains unknown and requires further study.
- The hormone melatonin also affects the growth of bones; the ability of this hormone to stimulate bone tissue cells that promote bone growth, known as osteoblasts was confirmed in clinical studies. As the active blood levels of the hormone melatonin tends to decrease in some groups of older people including women in the post-menopausal stage of life, many of the present studies in the laboratory are focusing on investigating whether the lowering of melatonin levels in such individuals actually contributes to the development of osteoporosis. If there is a connection, it is hoped that supplements of the hormone melatonin can be used to prevent the development of this common condition in many post-menopausal women.
- Heart Disease
- People affected by heart disease and other cardiac disorders tend to have low blood levels of the hormone melatonin, however, the reason for this is not fully known. There is some debate over whether the low levels of melatonin are a physiological response to the state of heart disease or if the reduction in melatonin levels is the factor inducing the development of the disease state. Moreover, the results from several animal tests have indicated that melatonin might possibly be protecting the heart from the damaging effects of a cardiac ischemia, which is the lowering of blood flow and oxygen which often develops into full blown cardiac arrest. The actual benefits of supplementing with melatonin with a view to prevent or treat heart diseases in patients, is still a matter of contention among clinical researchers – the role that the hormone melatonin plays in the onset of heart disease remains a mystery. There is a necessity to conduct many more clinical studies before a definite conclusion about the role played by melatonin can be made, only than would it be possible to use supplements of melatonin in dealing with cardiac diseases as a part of the standard treatment strategy.
- Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Supplements of melatonin may help induce sleep in children affected by this condition. Such supplements will not improve or alleviate the primary behavioral symptoms of ADHD, but will help reduce the sleep disturbances in affected children.
- Viral Encephalitis
- Melatonin supplements might come in handy when dealing with encephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain brought on by disease. While the treatment of human encephalitis using melatonin alone has not been scientifically evaluated in clinical studies, some research on animals suggests that this particular supplement may indeed protect tested animals from serious complications brought on by the condition and is likely to increase the survival rates of affected test subjects. The Venezuelan equine virus that is a type responsible for viral encephalitis was injected into test mice as part of a clinical study, the infected mice were then administered melatonin supplements. The injection of the hormone led to a significant lowering in the total amount of viruses present in the blood, leading to greatly reduced death rates by more than eighty per cent. There is a need to conduct more clinical lab based studies to determine if this type of treatment can offer similar protection to people affected by viral encephalitis. This may be a very promising field of clinical research.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- People affected by rheumatoid arthritis tend to have lower levels of melatonin in their blood when compared to healthy individuals. In studies, it was found that the melatonin levels in the blood of people with rheumatoid arthritis returned to normal when such arthritis patients were treated using the anti-inflammatory medication called indomethacin. As melatonin resembles the chemical structure of the compound indomethacin, the researchers have speculated that people with rheumatoid arthritis might benefit from melatonin supplements – as they suggest that the hormone may induce the same beneficial effects as the medication. This is just speculation and has not been scientifically verified in a laboratory setting.
- The result from a several small scale clinical studies indicates that melatonin containing gels, lotions and ointments may protect the skin against sunlight induced redness – erythema – as well as other forms of skin damage when used by alone or when combined in a topical solution with vitamin E prior. Such lotions, creams and gels protect skin exposed to UV radiation from strong sunlight.
- Eating Disorders
- In people suffering from anorexia nervosa and related eating disorders, there is a direct connection between the low levels of melatonin and the various symptoms induced by the condition in the person. People affected by eating disorders may possibly be suffering from clinical depression due to abnormally low levels of melatonin in the blood according to some clinical researchers – these researchers suggest lowered melatonin levels have something to do with many eating disorders and the symptoms they induce in a person. At this time, clinical researchers are still uncertain if the administration of melatonin supplements to patients affected by eating disorder will benefit such people. It has also been speculated by some researchers that lowered levels of melatonin levels in anorexia patients may be an indication of whether they are likely to benefit from the use of antidepressant medications – this is the standard clinical treatment often employed in the treatment of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.
- Melatonin supplements may also help in dealing with epilepsy. The results from preliminary clinical research indicate that the administration of melatonin reduces the number of seizures in certain test animals and may help in actively reducing such seizures in epileptics. These findings are disputed by other epilepsy experts within the medical community of clinical researchers. These researchers take the opposite view and state that in fact, the use of melatonin doses at one to five mg per daily may in reality induce seizures in epileptics; they contend that children with neurologic disorders with the epilepsy are especially vulnerable in this regard. Since this study is in the early stages, some specialists advise that doctors should administer melatonin only to a select group of people who suffer from seizures that cannot be controlled by any other type of treatment.
- Physicians in certain cases have also tried using melatonin supplements to help in treating sarcoidosis, which is a dangerous condition where fibrous tissue develops inside the pulmonary system, leading to severe complications. In at least two published case reports, it has been said that sarcoidoisis patients who did not improve with steroid treatments are likely to benefit from supplements of melatonin.
- Cancer-related Weight Loss
- People affected by cancer tend to loss weight and suffer from malnutrition – melatonin supplements might help such patients recover body weight. Melatonin supplements were used as an aid to weight gain in a clinical study of one hundred cancer affected patients who were at an advanced stage of different cancers. In the study, the patients who received melatonin supplements were much less likely to lose body weight when compared to those who did not receive the supplements during the trial.
- Breast Cancer
- There are reports from several studies that suggest that the risk for breast cancer is linked to the levels of melatonin in the body of a person. In general, women affected by breast cancer tend to show a much lower level of melatonin in the blood compared to healthy women. Moreover, the connection between melatonin levels and breast cancer tissues has been confirmed in laboratory experiments performed by researchers; these clinical scientists have discovered that the growth of certain types of breast cancer cells is promoted in an environment that is low in melatonin; conversely the addition of melatonin to the culture of breast cancer cells resulted in the inhibition of the growth of these cells. Melatonin may also boost the effectiveness of some types of chemotherapy agents used in treating breast cancer in women, according to the finding from preliminary laboratory and clinical studies carried out at some reputed medical centers. Melatonin administered to a small batch of breast cancer affected women in one study, showed that the melatonin given a week prior to the start of chemotherapy completely prevented the lowering of the platelet count in the blood of these patients. Thus the melatonin prevented the occurrence of one of the most common complications of chemotherapy, called thrombocytopenia in these patients. This prevented excessive bleeding in the patients and contributed to their chances of recovering from the disease.
Melatonin also proved beneficial in another clinical study of a small group of breast cancer affected women in whom the breast cancer tissues did not respond to the most common chemotherapy agent tamoxifen; the addition of melatonin to the treatment induces a modest shrinkage in the size of the tumors in about twenty eight percent of the women taking part in the study. A doctor’s supervision and consent is essential before melatonin supplements can be used by people with breast cancer, especially if they are considering taking melatonin supplements along with other chemotherapy drugs.
- Prostate Cancer
- Melatonin levels in the blood of men affected by prostate cancer is low similar to the melatonin levels of breast cancer affected women. Clinical studies have found that prostate cancer patients have lower melatonin levels in the blood compared to men without the disease. In clinical trials, it was confirmed that the hormone melatonin actively blocks the growth of prostate cancer cell cultures. Melatonin has been investigated as a possible treatment option for treating prostate cancer in men, for example, some men in the metastatic stage of prostate cancer were studied in one small scale study, in which they were administered melatonin along with the conventional medication. The results showed that it resulted in improved survival rates for at least nine men out of fourteen affected by the disease. These are significant results. In addition, meditation tends to cause melatonin levels to rise in the blood of patients, and therefore, melatonin seems to be a valuable addition in the treatment of prostate cancer in men. There is a need to conduct a thorough clinical investigation before doctors can start giving melatonin as a supplementary medication to men affected by prostate cancer.
Sources of melatonin
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.
Deficiencies and susceptibility
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.
Side effects and cautions
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.