Many people have experienced sleepless nights for one reason or another. As more research is conducted regarding how melatonin affects the body, the mostly positive results have people turning to this supplement for more than just insomnia. It is a natural alternative to other sleep-inducing medications that has many other beneficial effects on the body and no known serious side-effects.
Melatonin naturally occurs in the pineal gland and is used by the body to regulate its circadian rhythms, telling it when to sleep or wake. The physiological effect of this is an increase of drowsiness and a lowered body temperature. This hormone is inhibited by light and secretes more in darkness, giving it the popular title of “hormone of darkness”. Melatonin production decreases as a person ages.
There are many melatonin effects which have been shown to be beneficial. Melatonin is a powerful and unique antioxidant that has many advantages over more traditional antioxidants found in food or taken as supplements, such as the ability to easily cross cell membranes and the blood-brain barrier. It has been used successfully to reduce delirium in the elderly and as a preventative treatment for migraines and cluster headaches. It has been shown to decrease cholesterol in the gallbladder and helps to prevent stones. Though still being studied, it is also believed that melatonin affects aging by reversing gene expressions that change as we get older, returning them to their younger states.
There are very few melatonin side effects, most of them uncommon. Some have been known to experience headaches, nausea, grogginess the following day, nightmares, sleepwalking, and abdominal pains. Dosages appear to have no bearing on this, nor are melatonin side effects stronger in children. Doctors do recommend that those taking melatonin do not attempt to drive or perform any activity that can be made dangerous by inhibited alertness. There is also some concern for negative interactions with medications such as blood-thinners, immunosuppressant’s, diabetes medications, and birth control pills. Anyone taking melatonin should avoid animal-based melatonin products, as these have been known to carry viruses.
Melatonin effects are still being evaluated and as of yet there are very few long-term or large studies that have been conducted. Researchers are exploring many options for melatonin application, including Alzheimer’s disease, bipolar disorder, and HIV. Links between low melatonin and higher cancer rates are also being looked into. Available over-the-counter in the U.S., melatonin is only available through prescription in many other countries. Until further studies are done, however, melatonin effects and melatonin side effects have yet to be truly determined.