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Is Taking Melatonin Regularly Bad for You?

Melatonin supplements have exploded in popularity, with nearly 5 million U.S. adults incorporating them into their nightly routines. This rise in use reflects a growing trend towards natural sleep aids, as 50 to 70 million Americans struggle with ongoing sleep disorders, such as insomnia, parasomnia, sleep-related breathing disorders, and circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders. Unfortunately, many of the conventional sleep medications on the market lead to dependence and addiction. As a result, more people are turning to melatonin as a safer, non-habit-forming alternative to improve their sleep quality. 

However, many of my clients come to me concerned that taking melatonin is somehow bad for them. That is why I want to clear up the confusion and provide a comprehensive understanding of melatonin’s benefits, potential side effects, and influence on other areas of health beyond sleep.  

What is Melatonin, and How Does it Influence Sleep? 

Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced and released in the body in response to reduced light exposure. As the sunlight disappears over the horizon and darkness falls, the retina of the eyes detects this change and transmits the information to the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) located in the hypothalamus of the brain. The SCN plays a pivotal role in regulating the body’s circadian rhythms, or internal clock, by signaling the brain’s pineal gland to produce and release melatonin. In turn, melatonin helps to regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle, prompting us to drift into a deep, restorative slumber in the evening.

As you can imagine, artificial light from our modern handheld devices can disrupt melatonin production, making it more difficult to fall asleep. Therefore, many individuals (including myself) use supplements to boost their melatonin levels and restore their natural sleep-wake cycle. Although widely sought-after for its ability to treat insomnia and improve overall sleep quality, melatonin is much more than just a sleep hormone, impacting numerous aspects of our health, as outlined below.

What Are the Positives of Taking Melatonin Beyond Sleep?

May Lower Cancer Risk

Nearly 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will develop some form of cancer at some point in their lifetime, with the most common types being breast, lung, prostate, and colon cancer. As someone who has fought and won their battle against cancer, researching and sharing strategies to mitigate cancer risk is one of my greatest passions. Fortunately, emerging experimental studies have revealed that melatonin has the potential to halt cancer growth in human tumor cells and extend lifespan by an incredible 25%. Researchers note that melatonin imparts these anti-cancer benefits by encouraging apoptosis (cancer cell death) and inhibiting angiogenesis (the formation of new blood cells). By blocking angiogenesis, melatonin effectively cuts off the nutrient and oxygen supply to tumor cells.

May Support Brain Health 

If improving your brain health is one of your top priorities, melatonin shows promise as an excellent neuroprotective agent. In fact, some experts consider melatonin one of the most potent treatments for neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. It protects the brain from these conditions by halting neurotoxic pollutant damage and reducing neuroinflammation. Melatonin also helps to protect the mitochondria, which are the energy-producing powerhouses of the cell. When mitochondria fail to function properly, it’s referred to as mitochondrial dysfunction—a key factor in the onset and progression of neurodegenerative diseases. 

May Improve Immune Function 

Melatonin also assists in regulating the immune system. Specifically, melatonin has been shown to alleviate the symptoms associated with autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and lupus. Its ability to modulate immune function helps prevent the immune system from attacking healthy tissues and organs, a hallmark of autoimmune disorders. While further research is needed to fully understand melatonin’s impact on autoimmunity, preliminary findings suggest exciting possibilities for melatonin as a therapeutic agent in managing autoimmune conditions and promoting overall immune health.

May Reduce Inflammation 

Prolonged inflammation is recognized as the root cause of many of the major chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and kidney disease. To reduce the inflammation associated with these conditions, many individuals reach for aspirin, NSAIDs and corticosteroids. However, long-term use of these medications comes with side effects, such as gastrointestinal bleeding, ulcers and infections. Given its ability to tame inflammation without these adverse effects, melatonin has garnered attention in recent research as an alternative to traditional anti-inflammatory medications. Interestingly, researchers have found that melatonin helps to reduce the level of several proinflammatory molecules in the body, including interleukin-1 (IL-1), IL-6, IL-8, and tumor necrosis factor. As such, melatonin may be useful in preventing and treating the symptoms associated with inflammatory disorders.   

May Act as a Powerful Antioxidant 

One of the most profound benefits of melatonin is its antioxidant activity, which helps protect the body from harmful free radicals that cause cell-damaging oxidative stress. Normally, the body generates small quantities of free radicals as a natural byproduct of metabolism. However, in our modern society, we are exposed to a plethora of toxins and air pollutants that increase free-radical production. When left unaddressed, oxidative stress from free radicals can pave the way for the development of various diseases. Not only can melatonin act as an antioxidant to lessen this effect, but it also activates powerful antioxidant enzymes, such as superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, and glutathione reductase. Therefore, melatonin proves to be a valuable compound in combating oxidative stress and decreasing the risk of disease. 

May Reduce Triglyceride Levels

Melatonin also influences the activity of enzymes involved in lipid metabolism, such as lipoprotein lipase, enhancing the clearance of triglycerides from the bloodstream. Animal studies and small human trials have demonstrated that melatonin supplementation can lead to a significant reduction in triglyceride levels, suggesting its potential as an adjunctive therapy for managing hypertriglyceridemia and related metabolic disorders. More research still needs to be done in this area, but I feel very positively about what I have seen so far. 

What Are the Potential Negatives of Taking Melatonin? 

Melatonin Side Effects

While there may be apprehension surrounding the use of melatonin supplements, they are generally associated with fewer side effects than leading prescription sleep aids and medications. Nevertheless, some people do experience dizziness, nausea, headaches, and irritability. In rare cases, there have been reports of nightmares and daytime sleepiness. However, these symptoms usually arise from exceeding the recommended dose of melatonin indicated on the bottle. This is why I always tell my clients that more doesn’t always equate to better. Therefore, it’s best to stick to no more than 5 milligrams of melatonin per day.

Melatonin Drug Interactions

Before adding melatonin to your supplement stash, it’s also important to consider the possible drug interactions. Melatonin can negatively interact with several medications by lowering their effectiveness. Therefore, you should be cautious of melatonin supplementation if you are taking anticoagulants, antihypertensives, antidepressants, antipsychotics, immunosuppressants, beta-blockers, or contraceptives. As such, you should consult your doctor about the potential side effects and drug interactions to ensure melatonin supplements are appropriate for you. 

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As you can see, melatonin is a safe and effective way to improve sleep quality, reduce cancer risk, boost brain health, regulate immune function, and reduce the inflammation and oxidative stress associated with chronic disease. Therefore, you can rest assured that regular supplementation is a great way to support your overall health and isn’t something for most people to be concerned about. As always, I do recommend talking to your doctor before starting a new supplement or if you have any concerns. If you are interested in more ways to support your body’s circadian rhythm and prevent disease onset, consider booking a one-on-one session with me here.

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