Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland, a pea sized structure that is located in the center of the brain. At night Melatonin is produced to help our bodies regulate the sleep-wake cycles. The amount of Melatonin produced by our bodies seems to lessen, as we get older. Scientists believe that this may be why old people have problems of falling asleep.
The uses of Melatonin:
- It is useful to hasten sleep and combat jet lag, without having the side effects of conventional sleeping pills.
- It strengthens the Immune system.
- It delays degenerative changes in the body.
- It has an anti-oxidant effect, which is useful to prevent strokes, coronary artery disease and cancer.
- It is useful to combat fatigue.
- It is said to prevent aging.
- It is said to enhance the testosterone levels in males, thus making them more sexually active in their later years.
Side effects of Melatonin:
- Some persons complain of nightmares.
- Morning grogginess.
- Mild depression.
- Low sex drive.
Who should avoid it?
- It should not be given to pregnant or lactating mothers, as it might affect the fetus.
- It should not be given to people with severe allergies.
- It should not be used in patients with Auto- immune diseases or with Leukemia.
- It should not be administered to children.
Dosage of Melatonin:
The dosage varies enormously from person to person and successful results have been obtained with doses ranging from 1 mg to 200 mg. It is best that this drug be started in a low dosage and then worked up to larger doses to get the optimal effects.
It should be taken only at nighttime, usually about 30 minutes prior going to bed. If a person sleeps at night, then Melatonin should not be taken during the day and vice versa – because Melatonin plays a role in setting the body’s daily clock.
Is Melatonin safe?
Melatonin is one of the least toxic substances known. People have taken as much as 6 grams (600 to 3000 times the normal dose) and carefully monitored studies have shown no sign of toxicity. The only consistent side effect has been drowsiness and a slower reaction time. In the most extensive clinical trial 75 mgs of Melatonin per day was given to 1400 women in the Netherlands for up to four years and no untoward side effects were noted. In the US, FDA reports indicate that there have been no alarming side effects, despite the fact that this medication is available as an ‘over the counter remedy’.
In India, flight crews are conversant with this drug and use it regularly to combat jet lag. Some of the claims that Melatonin retards the aging process have been debunked. But, it would good if it would be made available over the counter remedy in India, as it could be safer than commonly used medications, such as Calmpose or Valium.