Melatonin: Sleep & More? Let’s see…

It’s all about learning on chipur. Typically, once a week I present the goods on a drug or supplement. Today, let’s take a look at melatonin.

Melatonin is a hormone secreted into blood by a pea-sized structure in the downtown brain known as the pineal gland. Interestingly enough, melatonin is manufactured from the amino acid, tryptophan. That’s the very same tryptophan from which serotonin is produced.

The Blood-Brain Barrier

Though the pineal gland is deep within the brain, it’s outside of the blood-brain barrier (BBB). You know, we hear so much about the BBB – let’s take a moment and discuss it.

The BBB is a physiological mechanism that manages the passage of essential metabolites, such as oxygen and glucose, from the blood into the cerebrospinal fluid – and ultimately into the brain and spinal cord. Not allowed to pass are hormones, neurotransmitters, viruses, bacteria, and more. An exclusive club, don’t you think?

But what makes this marvelous mechanism so frustrating is the fact that medications that could treat brain and spinal cord disorders are forbidden as well.

Melatonin’s Influence

Melatonin is deeply involved in our sleep/wake cycle. In fact, it’s referred to as the hormone of darkness.  That’s because its production is inhibited by light and given the green light by darkness.

Its secretion, and level in the blood, peaks just prior to bedtime; and gradually decreases as the night ensues. Of course, the cycle is impacted by our personal sleep/wake decisions/schedule.

But melatonin’s influence extends beyond the workings of our biological clock. For example, it’s known to be a powerful antioxidant.

Melatonin: The Supplement

Melatonin has been available over-the-counter as a dietary supplement in the U.S. for quite some time. Such is not the case in numerous countries.

But, remember, since it’s sold as a dietary supplement; the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate it like medication. That said, since June of last year the FDA requires the production of dietary supplements to comply with current good manufacturing practices. Also required are controls that result in consistent product free of contamination, with accurate labeling. Finally, all serious dietary supplement related adverse events must be reported.

For what conditions might you consider taking melatonin?

  • Certain sleep disorders
  • Some types of insomnia
  • Prevention of jet lag
  • Delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS)

And though more research is required, melatonin shows promise for the treatment of…

  • Age-related macular degeneration
  • Preoperative anxiety
  • Benzodiazepine tapering
  • Cancer
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Work shift sleep disorder


So there’s an objective thumbnail on the hormone, and supplement, melatonin. If you’re considering using it, as with any supplement, medication, procedure, or therapy; do your research and make sure to swirl things around with your physician. It’s important, okay?

Looking for more information on melatonin or other supplements? Check-out the website of the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. Click here.

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