Many people already rely on melatonin for its usefulness as a sleep aid, but there are many other health benefits associated with melatonin that remain relatively unknown. As the research into the benefits of melatonin continues to develop, there are many more avenues coming to light. For instance, it might be beneficial for baldness when used topically, it may be beneficial in the treatment of certain cancers, and it may be useful for women going through menopause. These potential melatonin benefits are wide ranging, and surprisingly not just restricted to areas of sleep study.
How does Melatonin Work?
Scientifically known as N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine, melatonin is actually a hormone that is naturally produced by something within our brains called the pineal gland. This gland is extremely small, but plays a vital role in regulating sleep, particularly the relationship between light and dark and our sleep patterns. At night (or during periods of darkness) a proper functioning pineal gland will produce and release melatonin, which then stimulates sleep. During daylight hours, this production is ceased. Scheduled melatonin releases through this gland is essentially the mechanism that keeps our own personal internal clock functional.
Especially in this day and age, there can be times where this clock gets thrown out of whack and it can begin to disrupt the correct sleep pattern (also called the circadian rhythm). For example, people who work long hours, especially with shift work, or for people who are blind, it becomes difficult for their bodies to biologically manage their own sleep schedules. The introduction of melatonin as a supplement can help begin to re-balance the internal workings of our inner clock.
Health Benefits of Melatonin
1. Reduces Symptoms of Menopause
Although melatonin is most famous for its regulation of the circadian rhythm, it also plays a vital role in regulation of female hormones. During menopause, the female body goes through a dramatic change in hormone production, but melatonin has been found through some preliminary study to reduce these symptoms. Participants (perimenopausal and menopausal) showed positive reduction in symptoms including depression, irritability, and problems sleeping when they took a daily dose of melatonin for six months.
2. Reduces Symptoms of Jet Lag
Not surprising, considering melatonin’s function as a sleep aid, but melatonin is also an option for frequent travelers trying to combat the issues related to jet lag. Jet lag is basically caused by our internal clock trying to decipher the differences in time zones and daylight hours between one location and the next. Our circadian rhythm cannot instantly adjust and can only slowly shift towards the correct schedule. Reviews of the current research have concluded that when melatonin is used just before travel, and taken at the new time zones’ correct bedtime, it can successfully trick our internal clocks to adjust much more quickly than they would without it.
3. Has Potential to Treat Certain Cancers
Some cancers are theorized to be caused by low melatonin levels. This includes some forms of breast and prostate cancers. Both through laboratory and animal studies, scientists have found that melatonin can reduce breast cancer cell growth and reduce the size of tumors. Another study also found that with melatonin supplement during treatment with the drug tamoxifen, it increased the success rate of this specific chemotherapy.
4. Reduces Hair loss
There is significant evidence demonstrating melatonin’s capability to treat male pattern baldness, when used topically. Studies have shown that when used topically, it has been able to increase hair density and reduce hair loss over the course of 30 days and 90 days. It has already been recognized as a key ingredient for treatment of baldness within the men’s hair industry, and it is currently being used as a growth modulator by many companies.
5. Has Potential to Prevents Migraines
Through a small daily dose of melatonin, one study found that migraine sufferers were able to reduce the quantity, length and severity of their migraines. In a study of 32 participants, they reported on average a 50% reduction over the course of one month in the number of headaches they experienced, as well as a significant change in the strength. Scientists theorize that melatonin is able to effectively treat migraines because of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
6. Improves Daily Life for People with Autism
There is currently no cure for autism, but there is a suggestion in preliminary research that melatonin may potentially make daily life for those with autism much easier. According to the research, when people with autism take daily doses of melatonin, it can increase the quality of life and by association reduce stress on their caregivers. Some examples of improvements include better sleep cycles which leads to improved daytime behavior.
A Word of Caution
As with any supplement it is possible to take too much melatonin. Especially when using it in these new areas of application, it’s always important to speak with a healthcare professional prior to use. There are no nationally or internationally available guidelines on dosage and they will vary depending on the person and the illness. Some of the main areas of concern are its potential to inhibit the effectiveness of other medications, including antidepressants, antipsychotics, birth control, blood thinners, anti-inflammatories, immunosuppressants and blood pressure medications. If melatonin interacted negatively with these medications, the results could be extremely problematic. Doctors also recommend that pregnant and nursing women avoid taking melatonin because of its hormonal content. Also, some people experience side effects such as vivid dreams (nightmares), nausea, drowsiness, short term depression, irritability and decreased libido.
Because of this list of potential complications related to melatonin use, always speak with a doctor prior to use. A professional will be able to recommend not only the proper dosage, but also be able to advise you on any complications which may occur in your own circumstances.