Header image alt text

Dr. Fred Hui

Helping People Achieve Balance in Life

Melatonin

 

Natural sleeping pill which may reset the aging clock! 

Out of so many health supplements which are market favourites today, Melatonin is like a hot cake! Discovered only four decades ago, research has pointed out multiple areas in which Melatonin has shown its usefulness. Scientists are quite convinced that Melatonin: 

  • Promotes going to sleep and thus helps people with Insomnia.
  • Combats jetlag and has special usefulness for athletes and travelers who cross many time zones in a day.
  • Works as an anti-oxidant.
  • Boosts the immune system of the human body.
  • May prevent and/or treat cancer.
  • Most significantly, resets the body’s aging clock and turns back the ravages of time! 

Production 

Melatonin is produced in the body by the pineal gland (a tiny structure located at the base of the brain). The pineal gland secretes Melatonin when it is dark; secretions are inhibited by perception of light. The blood level of Melatonin is higher at night (highest at 1-2 a.m.) and is lower during the day. A blind person may not coincide his levels with the day and night rhythm (since he or she is unable to perceive the difference between light and darkness). 

Melatonin for sleep 

A high level of Melatonin in the circulation induces sleep, and a low level coincides with wakefulness. Amongst humans, babies have the highest level and therefore sleep the longest hours. Secretions from the pineal gland diminish with age. A sharp decline occurs around puberty. Middle-aged adults produce only half as much as children and supplementation may work miracles for those suffering from Insomnia. Melatonin-induced sleep is natural. One does not wake up groggy, as is the case with usual sleeping pills. One should not compare it with conventional sleeping. Melatonin is not useful that much as an occasional instant sleeping pill, but it may start working after nights of intake when the “reservoir” of melatonin becomes progressively fuller as one start to “top up” the storage. 

Melatonin and jetlag 

Melatonin works for jetlag. It may rapidly reset the biological clock and almost totally prevent the symptoms of jetlag –—-loss of appetite; a distorted estimation of time, distance, and space; irritability; gastrointestinal disturbances; disorientation; difficulty in concentrating; depression; and sleep disorders. Many top athletes and commercial pilots take Melatonin to reduce the negative symptoms of jetlag. It may be taken on the first evening in the new time zone. The dosage schedule, however, varies widely. 

Role of Melatonin in Cancer 

It has been shown that Melatonin slows down the growth of cancer cells in a test tube. Melatonin has also been shown to enhance the effect of a hormone called Interleukin-2, used in the treatment of lung cancer, and Tamoxifen, used for the treatment of breast cancer. Melatonin has been used to treat cancers of the intestine, in combination with a hormone called IL-2. 

Melatonin and free radicals 

It is known that free radicals are constantly being poured into our systems as by-products of oxygen consumption (in our body). Free radicals damage our immune system and play a role in age-related degeneration of the body’s organs and tissues. Melatonin, like Vitamin C and E, acts as an anti-oxidant, and counteracts these free radicals. It also stimulates the main anti-oxidant enzyme of the brain, glutathione peroxidase. 

Can melatonin prolong life? 

Scientists are very much interested to know if Melatonin can set the biological clock to a youthful level, and thus prolong life. In experimental studies, it has been shown to prolong the life span of rats and mice by 20%. This could be due to its action as an immune modulator, a free radical scavenger, an anti-cancer agent, a preserver of youthful circadian rhythm, and its possible role on other endocrine organs, especially the enhancement of growth hormones by the pituitary gland. 

Are there any contraindications? 

Yes. The following people should not take Melatonin:

  • Pregnant and nursing women. It is not yet known what effects it has on babies.
  • Healthy children: they already have plentiful levels in their bodies.
  • Women who want to conceive: bigger doses may induce a contraceptive effect. 

Are there any side effects? 

Melatonin has minimal side effects. It may cause drowsiness and slow reaction time if taken in bigger doses. In a clinical trial in the Netherlands, 75mg of Melatonin was given to 1400 women for up to four years, with no ill effects. No significant side effects have been reported to the FDA ever since Melatonin became an on-counter-drug in the US. In Canada, it was just released to be purchasable by the public as of the beginning of 2004. 

Dosage 

The usual dose is 3mg, taken orally, any time in the evening. The dosage may be tailored upwards to 8mg, if one does not improve in sleep in a weeks time, or downward if one has a hangover (very rare). Some people take as little as half a milligram per night.  Melatonin should be taken at night only. 

References 

  • Susan M, Webb and Manuel Puig. Role of melatonin in health and disease. Clinical Endocrinology (1995) 42, 221-234
  • Garfinkel D, Laudon M, Zisapel N. Improvement of sleep quality in elderly people by controlled release melatonin. Lancet.1995,Vol/Iss/Pg.346/89743(541-544)
  • Maestroni GJ. The immunoendocrine role of melatonin. Journal of Pineal Research 14(1):1- 10,1993 January
  • Reiter RJ, Melatoninchiorri D, Sewerynek E, Poeggeler B, Barlow-Walden L, Chuang J, Ortiz GG, Acuna- Castroviejo D. A review of the evidence supporting melatonin’s role as an antioxidant. Journal of pineal research 18(1): 1-11 1995 January.
  • Reiter RJ. Oxidative processes and antioxidative defense mechanisms in the aging brain. FASEB Journal. 9(7):526-33,1995 April
  • Zhdanova IV, Wurtman RJ, Lynch HJ, Ives JR, Dollins AB, Morabito C, Matheson JK, Schomer DL. Sleep-inducing effects of low doses of melatonin ingested in the evening. Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics. 57(5): 552-8, 1995 May.
  • Petrie K, Dawson AG, Thompson L., Brook R. A double-blind trial of melatonin as a treatment in international cabin crew. Biological Psychiatry. 33 (7): 526-30, 1993 April 1
  • Melatonin-Current Status and Perspective. Proceedings of an International Symposium, Bremen, September, 1980 edited by N. Birau and W. Schloot