Publix GreenWise Market Magazine - Winter 2009
Rest Easy with Melatonin
|WHAT IT IS|
Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by a gland in the brain. It helps the body know when to sleep and when to wake up. Nicknamed “the Dracula of hormones,” melatonin only comes out in darkness, when its production is switched on by the body’s biological clock. As blood levels of melatonin rise, you begin to feel drowsier and less alert. With the light of day, it drops back to barely discernible levels.
WHERE TO GET IT
Melatonin is not available from food sources. Supplements sold in pill form come in a range of dosages. A typical dose is 0.5 to 5.0 mg daily.
|THE EVIDENCE SO FAR
Melatonin supplements seem to be most useful for resetting the body’s internal clock. For example, there is strong evidence that melatonin can help fight jet lag in travelers who cross time zones, says Charmane Eastman, Ph.D., director of the Biological Rhythms Research Lab at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. The benefits are especially pronounced when traveling east.
Some studies also suggest that night-shift workers might benefit from melatonin supplements. “These people usually don’t have much trouble falling asleep. It’s staying asleep that’s the problem,” says Eastman. Her research (Journal of Biological Rhythms, August 2005) shows that melatonin helps a little. To boost its benefits, Eastman suggests wearing very dark sunglasses when heading home from work in the morning to reduce exposure to sunlight.
Another type of sleep problem is called delayed sleep phase syndrome, in which the body wants to fall asleep much too late at night and wake up much too late in the day. There is some evidence that melatonin supplements also might help with this form of insomnia, says Michael Breus, Ph.D., author of Beauty Sleep: Look Younger, Lose Weight, and Feel Great Through Better Sleep (Plume, 2007).
Finally, researchers from Vanderbilt University reported that melatonin may help treat insomnia in children with autism-related disorders (Journal of Child Neurology, May 2008). But for safety’s sake, melatonin should only be given to children under a doctor’s guidance.
THE JURY’S STILL OUT
Some scientists believe that melatonin may help treat cancer, high blood pressure and inflammatory bowel disease. But so far, there’s little scientific evidence to back up these claims.
Melatonin is generally safe for short-term use, according to a report by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Some side effects may occur, however, including headache, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, mood changes, confusion, sleepwalking or nightmares. Melatonin may affect reproductive hormones, so it isn’t recommended for women who are trying to conceive or who are pregnant or breast-feeding. Also, melatonin may constrict blood vessels, which could be risky for those with high blood pressure or heart disease. Some reports indicate that the hormone might interact with blood thinners and medications used to treat seizures or diabetes. Consult a doctor before starting to take melatonin supplements.