Melatonin. The “magic” sleep aid. A majority of Americans think that melatonin only benefits sleep. That is wrong. Very wrong. Melatonin has a wide array of positive benefits for your health besides promoting sleep; including neuroprotective agents, cancer-fighting agents, and others. The most widely-studied are its’ neuroprotective and cancer-fighting abilities, which are the two components that I focus on today. So, how does melatonin provide these benefits and why are they not more widely-known?
First and foremost, melatonin, although widely advertised as a sleeping aid in pharmacies and online stores, is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (for the record, many current supplements available today are not FDA-approved as the rigorous approval process cannot keep up with the amount of supplements appearing on the market today). The non-approval from the FDA has resulted in lack of resources and lack of opportunities for public research on the supplement, which has hindered further study of other benefits. Do not fear though, melatonin has no observable side-effects (except sleepiness so only take it at night!).
Neuroprotective agents: Melatonin converts to a powerful antioxidant once ingested in the body. Unlike many antioxidants on the market today, all cells in the body easily accept melatonin, and the blood-brain barrier is easily crossed. Antioxidants as a whole protect proteins and lipids (mainly important fats), and melatonin is widely considered one the best for overall protection in the brain and body.
What is interesting, and something that I have yet to experience due to youth, is that melatonin levels naturally dip as humans age. Many of the neurological diseases associated with old age; Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, etc.; are highly correlated with individuals with low antioxidant levels. It is crucial for aging individuals to start supplementing with melatonin to garner antioxidant protection. The normalized sleep patterns and balanced hormones offered by melatonin also protect against one the main factors in strokes: high blood pressure. Check out this study for men and this study for women for details, but in essence the melatonin treatment group’s blood pressure was significantly better than the placebo group.
Cancer-fighting agents: This is one of the most exciting avenues for future research at the moment. Little was known about the effects on cancerous cells until the mid-1990’s when academic research was begun. From different research institutes, a basic two-fold consensus has been established: melatonin reduces probability of death while also counteracting the adverse effects of chemotherapy treatment.
A meta-analysis of 10+ studies found that melatonin supplementation reduced risk of death by 34% at one year after a cancer diagnosis with no adverse effects reported. While chemotherapy attacks many bodily functions, melatonin supplementation is statistically significant in protecting platelet health, damage from neurotoxins, heart health, and fatigue (one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy).
Dosage: Melatonin comes from in capsule form from 100 micrograms to 10 milligrams (100 times the amount of 100 micrograms) per capsule. Caution is needed here as the upper-end of dosing from 5-10 milligrams has shown to cause grogginess the next day. I usually take 300 micrograms as needed at night. This dosage is the level that current research shows as the “sweet spot”.
It ultimately is up to you, as what works for you might be different than someone else. As an example, a close friend of mine used 1 mg capsules (Natrol Melatonin Fast Dissolve Tablets, Strawberry flavor, 1mg) and recommends them highly, as that is the correct dose for him. Ultimately though, what works for you, i.e. your own “sweet spot”, is a dosage that provides a sufficient night sleep but does not leave you feeling groggy the next morning.