-by Lori Alton
In the 16th century, William Shakespeare wrote of the ability of slumber to “” – a phrase that aptly illustrates the amazing restorative powers of sleep. Over the last 25 years, scientists have credited melatonin – a natural hormone – with promoting the type of deep, restful sleep that is so vital to maintaining physical and emotional health.
But, shows that melatonin is even more valuable – and versatile – than previously believed. Exciting new studies reveal that melatonin is able to help those suffering with heartburn, ease migraines, protect against Alzheimer’s disease, reduce anxiety and even improve treatment outcomes in cancer patients.
Melatonin functions as a natural sedative and anti-anxiety agent
Melatonin, a chemical neurotransmitter, is synthesized in the body from the amino acid tryptophan, and is secreted by the pineal gland. It is melatonin that is responsible for regulating body rhythms, , and maintaining the “biological clock.”
In addition to helping to induce sleep, melatonin has anxiety-relieving effects and helps to promote stable mood. But, there is more to melatonin than its ability to promote sleep and soothe nerves.
It is also a potent antioxidant that . Melatonin is particularly effective because – unlike other antioxidants – it easily diffuses into cells and can cross the blood-brain barrier.
Studies exploring melatonin’s potential for protecting the brain against neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, are currently underway.
Melatonin offers real help for a variety of sleep problems
Melatonin’s ability to ease insomnia and sleep disturbances is well documented.
In a meta-analysis published in , researchers analyzed 15 different sleep studies and found that melatonin significantly reduced the amount of time it took participants to fall asleep. It also significantly increased sleep duration.
Studies have shown that and those on “reverse sleep schedules.”
Because melatonin helps to re-synchronize the body’s circadian rhythms, it is also an effective natural remedy for jet lag.
(Interesting news: One double-blind study showed that melatonin can significantly decrease nighttime blood pressure – thereby helping to minimize a major stroke risk).
Surprising benefit: Clinical study shows melatonin superior to Prilosec for relieving heartburn
It turns out: melatonin plays an important role in gastrointestinal functioning. Researchers have found that it helps to protect the esophagus from the effect of gastric acid – making it a promising therapy for GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).
In a scientific review published in , the authors cited a study in which 351 participants with moderate to severe heartburn were divided into two groups. One group was given 6 mg of melatonin a day, in combination with B-complex vitamins and amino acids such as methionine and taurine.
The other was given the pharmaceutical medication Prilosec (omeprazole).
Within a week, the entire melatonin group reported improvement. And, after 40 days, their symptoms were completely resolved – a result experienced by only 66 percent of the Prilosec group.
And, heartburn relief isn’t the only unexpected benefit of melatonin.
Melatonin can help to reduce the risk of cancer cell growth
In a year-long study published in , 250 patients undergoing chemotherapy for advanced cancers of the lung, breast, gastrointestinal tract, head and neck were divided into two groups. One received only chemotherapy – with drugs such as cisplatin and gemcitabine – and the other received 20 mg of melatonin a day along with the medications.
By study’s end, the melatonin group had a significantly higher rate of survival, along with enhanced regression of tumors. They also experienced protection against many of the characteristic side effects of toxic cancer drugs – including lowered platelet count, fatigue, heart damage, mouth sores and neurotoxicity.
In a review of studies published in the , supplementation with melatonin almost doubled chances of survival for patients with various cancers, raising rates from 28 percent to 52 percent and causing the authors to laud its ”great potential in treating cancer.”
Study author Mogens Claesson, Professor Emeritus at the Institute of Immunology and Microbiology at the University of Copenhagen, lamented the fact that very few research groups worldwide have assessed melatonin.
One explanation for the low level of interest could be the fact that a natural, inexpensive substance can’t be patented and offers little earning potential for the pharmaceutical industry.
“It’s difficult to find the money to do research on (melatonin) …even though it might save lives,” Prof. Claesson said. (Doesn’t this state of affairs have a “familiar” – and frustrating – ring to it?)
How can I take melatonin for maximum benefit?
Levels of beneficial melatonin can decline with age – and certain pharmaceutical and over-the-counter medications (beta blockers in particular) can also “do a number” on your melatonin levels.
Supplementation may be necessary to achieve optimal levels.
For promoting sleep, integrative physicians can recommend dosages in the range of 1 to 3 mg, taken 30 minutes before bedtime.
Heartburn studies have utilized dosages of 6 mg a day, while the dosages used in cancer studies have ranged from 3 to 50 mg a day.
Before using melatonin, we suggest you consult with your integrative doctor to make sure that melatonin is right for you. Don’t use melatonin to treat cancer, or any other serious medical condition, without first consulting a trusted medical professional.
While melatonin is generally considered safe, and features few side effects, some people have reported particularly vivid dreams after taking it. (Of course, this may always not be considered a disadvantage).
Wishing you a good night’s sleep!
Sources for this article include: