Melatonin became somewhat of an overnight sensation after a Newsweek article in 1995 talked about its potential to relieve insomnia, stress, jet lag and depression. In addition the article spoke of melatonin’s ability to act as an antioxidant and fight cancer. The article itself was followed by a crazed rush to supermarket aisles to buy this supposed magical pill and though there may have been a lot of hype behind it, the science is still there too.
Melatonin is a hormone manufactured from serotonin and secreted by the pineal gland. Though the exact function of melatonin is not properly understood even today, scientists are very aware of its role in synchronising hormone secretion. This natural biorhythm is known as ‘circadian rhythms’.
Melatonin in addition to its afforementioned properties, is also a potent antioxidant. This in itself may explain why rat studies have demonstrated melatonin’s ability to prolong and extend life (31 months versus 25 months). Though it may not be as powerful an antioxidant as Vitamin C, E and many others it has demonstrated its ability in fighting cancer which is testament to its usefulness.
There have been numerous studies that highlighted melatonin’s positive effects in relieving jet lag. In terms of how it should be taken, advice generally falls under two branches: the first being to begin taking melatonin a few days before departure at the beginning of sleep-time; the second being to take melatonin just once in the evening upon arriving at your destination.
Melatonin is known to play a very important role in sleep. Numerous double-blind studies have shown melatonin’s ability to help promote sleep especially when natural levels are low. Taking melatonin however is not like taking a sleeping pill as secretion occurs naturally at this time. Perhaps its effects as a sedative may be noticeable in individuals where the pineal gland is producing very low and therefore insufficient amounts of melatonin.
Clinical trials in cancer patients have shown that melatonin exerts anti-cancer effects. It has shown to inhibit both the initiation processes and promotion of cancer. Some researchers have theorised that individuals living and/or working in environments where they are exposed to high levels of artificial electro-magnetic fields may suppress melatonin synthesis and lead to increased cancer incidence.
Melatonin levels are usually below normal in individuals with clinical depression. One mechanism of action is that melatonin may affect mood by reducing cortisol (our stress hormone) production. Clinical studies into melatonin and depression have so far been inconclusive as they have given contradictory results.
A single dose of 0.3 mg of melatonin taken 3 hours after stopping cigarettes seems to reduce anxiety, restlessness, irritability, and nicotine cravings over the subsequent 10 hours.
Melatonin is available in tablet, capsule and sublingual tablet forms. A dose of 3 mg at bedtime is usually more than enough. However doses as low as 0.1mg have shown to have some sedative effect when natural melatonin levels are low. Should individuals use it for its anti-cancer benefits, higher doses may be required.