Melatonin is a key hormone in the body's regulation of daily, monthly, yearly and possibly even life-long bodily functions. A hormone produced in the pineal gland, it affects many other organ systems in the body.
comes form the remnant of the body of our 'third eye'. This, our pineal gland
, contains light-sensitive cells and monitors our environment. It keeps our body in tune with daily and seasonal rhythms and changes. Hence, we are synchronous with nature; rest and sleep when it is dark and active and awake when it is light; and in lower animals, the sense of when to migrate, mate and hibernate.Melatonin
is not really a food supplement. It is a hormone, just like estrogen
, or cortisone, but without the obvious side-effects seen on overdosing. While melatonin is widely touted as an antioxidant
, the current evidence suggests that it is not an important antioxidant when typical concentrations are used.
Much information and marketing abounds concerning melatonin supplementation, the long-term consequences of which have not been determined. It seems that our pineal
glands release melatonin in ever increasing amounts in the evening, possibly in response to decreasing light, promoting the duration and "quality" of sleep. Some reports suggest that as humans age, the pineal gland
produces less melatonin; affecting not only the sleeping pattern, but other factors as well.
is produced by the pineal gland
and is not a part of your daily diet (unless you are in the habit of eating pineal
Melatonin levels are 10 to 20 times higher at night than during the day and one to two times higher in late spring/summer (the Solstice) than in late fall/winter. Melatonin is passed through the placenta
before birth, in mother's milk in the early part of our lives and gradually increases until age seven, when it greatly increases. At puberty
, there is a temporary decline, which signals the pituitary
to release the sex stimulating hormones. At about the age of 40, our pineal gland
shrinks and later becomes calcified. By age 60, our melatonin production is half of what it was at age 20.
Melatonin pills come in varying sizes, but include a 3mg oral preparation and a 2.5mg and 5mg under the tongue product.
Function; Why it is Recommended
In addition to extending our youthful life, melatonin
restores normal sleep patterns, is an antioxidant
, strengthens our immune system and enhances sexual vitality, as well as preventing jet lag.Melatonin
is appropriate for supplementation when low melatonin levels are suspected, or when specific conditions are being treated with higher doses.
If melatonin excites instead of calms, this may indicate a hormone imbalance in women. Inositol
at low doses (650mg, which is contained in 3 tbsp
) at bedtime may help. When depression
is also present, 5-HTP, St. John's Wort or tryptophan
may help as well.
Elderly patients using 2mg of controlled-release melatonin are much more successful at weaning themselves off of medications such as alprazolam, oxazepam, brotizolam, and lorzepam. In one study, 14 out of 18 patients were able to completely discontinue their benzodiazepine treatment after 4 to 6 weeks of melatonin therapy.
One particular use of melatonin seems to be quite rational; the short-term use of melatonin to overcome jetlag. Since jetlag is essentially a phenomenon of your body trying to reallign its 24 hour clock with the abnormal day light cycle change, a dose of melatonin seems to be excellent at helping. Taking 0.5 to 3 mg a few hours before the desired time of sleep should decrease the adjustment period of jetlag. Short-term treatment of insomnia can be treated the same way. Each individual will respond differently to different dosages of melatonin. What is adequate for one individual may have no effect on another and may cause even another to have a morning "hang-over".
One Dutch study suggested that 30mg of melatonin daily could even act as a contraceptive.
Generally speaking, melatonin
should not be taken during the day as it may disrupt circadian rhythms and cause drowsiness. There is no evidence that one method of delivery is substantially better than another (tablet, capsule, sublingual), but the sustained-release form might best duplicate the body's normal pattern of release. Generally the sublingual form is preferable when used to help with sleep or anxiety
. It is faster-acting, better absorbed, and doesn't remain in the system as long so it is less likely to cause a 'morning hangover'.
Dosages of 1-3mg one hour before bedtime are more than sufficient to achieve its sleep-inducing quality. Doses as low as 0.1mg have produced a sedative
effect when melatonin
levels are low. Doses in the range of 10-50mg are used in cancer treatment and possibly other conditions.
Others recommend 3 to 9mg one hour before desired sleep (3mg at ages 30 to 40; 6mg at ages 40 to 60; and 9mg after age 60). Melatonin is available in the form of sublingual tablets, in which case it is 2.5mg from ages 30 to 40; 5mg from ages 40 to 60; and 7.5mg after age 60.
However I use the regular form for jet lag & when I am treating someone with very low evening & midnight levels. Then I give a regular melatonin at 7-8pm & sublingual at bedtime.
Side-Effects; Counter-Indicators and WarningsMelatonin
is non-addictive and, if taken at the proper dosage, has little downside except its expense. It has shown itself to be virtually free of any significant adverse effects; a lethal dose of melatonin cannot be identified which is a rare event in toxicology studies. However, more mild side-effects, such as headache, morning sleepiness/grogginess, fatigue
, intense dreaming or nightmares, are experienced by average individuals when they try melatonin. Perhaps it is because these people do not require supplementation. In spite of the non-existence of serious side-effects, it is a cautious and generally made recommendation that melatonin should only be taken when your own production is low unless a serious condition is being treated with higher doses.
Melatonin is almost certainly safe for occasional use (such as in plane travel), but some concerns do exist about using it on a regular basis. Because the body's own production of melatonin is probably the equivalent of only 0.1mg daily, when you take melatonin for sleep, you may tremendously exceed the body's own production. The consequences of doing so on a regular basis are completely unknown.
If you take too much melatonin, you may experience the following effects:
- Drowsiness upon arising
- Wild, not just vivid, (bad) dreams
- An excess of the thyroid hormone (T3), resulting in waking up nervous, sweating, and with palpitations
- Decreased estrogen and progesterone levels. If melatonin excites instead of calms, this may indicate a hormone imbalance in women. Inositol at low doses (650mg, which is contained in 3 tbsp of lecithin) at bedtime may help.
On the basis of theoretical ideas about how melatonin
works, some authorities specifically recommend against using it for depression
diseases and other serious illnesses, or by pregnant or nursing women. Do not drive or operate machinery for several hours after taking melatonin.
Doses over 10mg per day can decrease ovarian activity & suppress sex hormone function.
Melatonin helps with the conversion of the inactive thyroid
(T4) to the active thyroid (T3). If you are on thyroid and start to regularly take melatonin, you may need to adjust your thyroid dosage.