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Medical Uses for Melatonin

Posted May 31 2011 4:52am

You may or may not have heard of something called melatonin which is supposedly used as a sleep aid. Just as with anything else, some people swear by it while others do not like to use the all natural supplement. With that being said, the only way for someone to make a choice to use it is to become educated on all aspects of melatonin. Before using it or continuing to use it, you should be made aware of what it is, how it works exactly, any positive or negative side effects, as well as any studies related to it.

What is Melatonin and How Does it Work?

In short, melatonin is a sleep hormone that helps to regulate ones sleeping cycles. Made by the pineal gland, this hormone controls your cycles of sleep as well as when your body is awake. Everyone has their own internal clock which is in control of when they sleep and they are awake. The clock controls the production of melatonin where typically, the levels are higher in the evening and then drop in the morning hours. Light plays a major role in how much melatonin your body creates. For example, the shorter days during the months of the winter, your melatonin production may change causing issues with your sleeping patterns. As people age so does their levels of melatonin. Typically these levels will peak around the age of twenty, but from then on, gradually decline until the age eighty and older.

sleeping Medical Uses for Melatonin

On top of being a natural sleep aid, it is also an antioxidant, anti depressant, and an anti-aging agent. Because of this, melatonin is used in many different supplements for different purposes. Melatonin is released from our brains at the point when our eyes sense the dark. It is how our bodies are able to regulate our sleeping patterns. The actual melatonin supplements work to stimulate melatonin.

When to Use Melatonin

When melatonin is used as a dietary supplement it is used by those who may have things such as jet lag or general sleep problems. Scientists also believe that melatonin can be beneficial for those who have SAD (seasonal affective disorder), help those who work night shifts so that they can better control their sleep patterns, and for those who have chronic headaches. It can also supposedly help to reduce or prevent issues with sleeping after a surgery. People who are blind are also being studied while using melatonin. Since they are not able to see light, their sleeping patterns may be disturbed.

melatonin Medical Uses for Melatonin

Other Uses for Melatonin

Melatonin is used for a number of different things and not just as a sleep aid. It has been studied in the treatment of cancer, depression, and even cardiovascular diseases. It can also help treat immune disorders, sexual dysfunction, and cardiac rhythm sleep disorders. Research has even shown that melatonin may play a role in modifying the impact of drugs on its user, such as cocaine.

Breast Cancer
Out of the Bassett Research Institute in Cooperstown, New York, David E. Blask, shares his findings of the melatonin hormone and how it can help those with breast cancer. Within his experiment he took lab mice, exposed them to breast cancer, and placed them under constant light which enhanced the tumor growth. Specifically, the light made the cancer grow seven times faster as it soaked up large amounts of linoleic acid. His research showed however, that at night the cancer “sleeps”. When the lights are off, the cancer doesn’t progress as much. His finding may explain why many nurses who work night shift are more likely to have cancer such as breast and colon cancer. In short, melatonin not only can help you sleep, but puts cancers to sleep as well! Melatonin slows breast cancer growth by 10 percent.

Seasonal Affective Disorder
Melatonin is also known for assisting those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. This is a type of depression that is triggered from different seasons of the year. The most common season which negatively impact individuals are the months of winter. Referred to as winter-onset depression, the symptoms begin during the late fall or earlier in the winter and will eventually go away in the summer. It is related to the changes in daylight we are exposed to during different times of the year. So you can see how melatonin can play a role in helping those with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Research done at the Oregon Health and Science University published a study on melatonin and this type of winter depression. Led by Alfred Lewy and colleagues at the OHSU Sleep and Mood Disorder Lab, they took 68 SAD patients and assigned each of them to one of three groups. Each group included the consumption of taking melatonin in the morning for an entire three week period. They did this study for four years, and as it concluded, it was found that when taking low doses of melatonin in the morning, it helped to improve their Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Cardiovascular Disease
A study found in The Lancet was done by researchers at the Institute for Cardiovascular Diagnosis and Therapy in Austria. The melatonin levels of two groups were observed. It included two women and 13 men who suffered from Heart Disease. The melatonin levels were measured in the afternoon and night time. Overall, the levels of melatonin found in the patients were significantly lower than the second group of healthy individuals. They actually showed levels of melatonin as five times less than that of the healthy patients. They found that when these lower levels are replenished, that this could be a very positive therapy for the patients and help create improvements. By maintaining ideal levels of melatonin it can work to prevent strokes, heart attacks, and other cardiovascular diseases.

Effects of Melatonin

Many people ponder if melatonin is safe and the answer is it impacts everyone differently. While it can be positive for many in helping them to improve their sleep patterns, others experience negative side effects. These include being over sleepy, a drop in body temperate, and even stomach problems. Some people will experience a change in blood vessels that can impact blood flow, while others may get headaches. Users may have nightmares or have grogginess in the morning.

Warnings

Like any other supplement, melatonin has warnings that come along with it. If you feel drowsy when taking it, do not operate any sort of machinery. If you are pregnant, you should not take melatonin. You should also always ask your doctor about taking melatonin because your interrupted sleep may be from a different medical condition. If your doctor says it is OK for you to take the supplement, also follow the right dosage and instructions.

What the Research Says

There has been several studies done on melatonin, mostly all leading in a positive direction in the supplement assisting in areas of sleep. A study done at the Wurtman Lab at MIT showed that not only did it help individuals to both fall asleep and stay asleep, but it also showed that that as we age, this becomes more difficult. Therefore, melatonin can help us with this. Certain doses of the melatonin supplement can bring back normal levels of the hormone that you once had when you were younger which help in correcting insomnia.

There has also been other studies that show melatonin supplements improve both sleep and cognitive impairment in patients with Alzheimer’s. Women with breast cancer show even lower levels of melatonin and experiments have found that low levels can create the growth of different types of cancer cells. By adding a melatonin supplement, growth may be minimized. In regards to mood disorders, studies have shown that melatonin and release timing of the hormone can alter someone with for example, bipolar affective disorder and SAD.

References

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