Although we may think of it as something new, melatonin has been around since the Stone Age—a natural compound occurring in many plants and animals we consume.
Melatonin is naturally produced in the human pineal gland. The body uses it to regulate circadian rhythm, which is a kind of “clock” that controls sleeping and waking patterns in the brain.
As the body becomes tired, the pineal gland secretes the hormone into the brain in preparation for sleep. In fact, melatonin production is elevated when it is dark.
People who work at odd hours and those who have irregular sleeping patterns frequently suffer from insomnia, and that’s one of the leading reasons for taking melatonin. It is available as a supplement or can be taken in foods that contain naturally high concentrations of the compound.
Why is it called a miracle drug?
Melatonin is often called a miracle drug because it can be used to treat a broad range of issues. People use it effectively for:
- Sleep disorders in handicapped or autistic children
- Sleep disorders in the blind
- Jet lag/mixed up sleep patterns
- Migraines and cluster headaches
- Anxiety reduction
- Quitting smoking
- Sunburn (used in sunscreen preventatively)
Other conditions that people use melatonin for include epilepsy, depression, menopause, tinnitus, IBS and fibromyalgia. However, the links between melatonin and such ailments have not been studied in great detail yet.
Does it really work and is it safe?
The consumption of melatonin has been monitored in many medical clinical trials. Patients were tracked for periods as long as two years, and many of the sleep disorder related reasons for taking melatonin turned out to be valid.
Melatonin has proven primarily effective for regulating sleep, because of its direct effect on the circadian rhythm.
That is not to say that it is safe though. Unfortunately, melatonin has many common side effects. Among these are headache, shaking, nausea, dizziness and abdominal cramps.
More serious side effects can also occur in some patients, such as mood changes (confusion, depression) and serious allergic reactions such as rash, itching, swelling and severe dizziness, as well as shortness of breath.
While melatonin cannot be purchased in many countries around the world, it is available over the counter in the USA. Anyone considering taking melatonin may wish to consult with a doctor before self-medicating. Symptoms like insomnia may be signs of other, more serious conditions.
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