Most of us associate melatonin supplements with insomnia but researchers are looking into new uses for this wildly popular dietary supplement.

Melatonin supplements are typically used as a sleep aid to provide relief for insomnia or disrupted sleep rhythms caused by jet lag or working night shifts.

Melatonin is a hormone secreted primarily by the pineal gland in the brain, and it helps to regulate our sleep-wake cycle or circadian rhythm. US consumers spent more than $825 million on melatonin supplements in 2020 – a whopping 42.6 percent increase in sales compared with 2019.

Because melatonin is not [as] regulated, there’s no guarantee about the purity of what you’re buying.

Melatonin can be made naturally from the pineal gland of animals; however, it is usually produced synthetically.

According to Brent Bauer, MD, of the Mayo Clinic, the supplement is “generally safe for short-term use,” with a very low likelihood of developing dependence, becoming habituated, or experiencing hangover effects, as can occur with many sleep medications.

Sleep, physical activity, and a healthy diet can be thought of as three pillars of health, which could contribute to promoting optimal well-being among young adults. Sleep quality outranked them all as the strongest predictor of good mental health.

We sleep for one-third of our lifetimes or about 24.9 years. People who cannot sleep, die. Rats die after about 17 days of total sleep deprivation.

Disrupted sleep has been linked to poor mental health before, including depression and other mood disorders. Insufficient sleep has been linked to a wide variety of health problems, including pain, heart disease and cancer. According to a 2007 British study, people who do not get enough sleep are more than twice as likely to die of heart disease.

Studies have shown that reduced melatonin levels are a risk factor for various cardiovascular diseases, including ischemic myocardial injury, hypertension, atherosclerosis, and heart failure.

Melatonin supplementation can help reduce nocturnal hypertension, blood pressure, platelet aggregation, and circulating catecholamines. Studies cited in the review have also demonstrated that melatonin may be effective against various bacterial and viral infections. Melatonin can also help relieve the systemic inflammation that viruses cause.

Melatonin supplementation in combination with traditional therapies could increase the efficiency of the treatment for infectious disorders, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders.

There’s not enough strong evidence on the effectiveness or safety of melatonin supplementation for chronic insomnia to recommend its use. Melatonin isn’t recommended for those with dementia or elderly individuals, because it can cause daytime drowsiness.

In the America that I love, sleeping around seven to eight hours per night appears to be optimal. Short-term use of melatonin supplementation is generally considered safe for most people, but data on long-term use are lacking.

Professor Randolph M. Howes, MD., PhD, is a surgeon, scientist and patient advocate who lives in the Kentwood area.

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