Never say never, right. Back in my old uni teaching days, I scorned the very notion of treating someone with ‘actual melatonin’. Always in favour of upstream approaches over downstream, I was keen instead to give patients the ‘ingredients & cofactors’ so they could whip the right amount up themselves. Well fast forward another decade in clinical experience, and research too, and while I refuse to give in with many other ‘replacement remedies’, melatonin, has snuck well and truly into my list of treatment considerations for some very specific presentations such as silent reflux, treatment refractory GORD and Barrett’s oesophagus, buoyed by some amazing clinical successes. So much so…that in fact I’ve embraced this replacement approach, whose results in this setting especially, can’t be replicated by treating with ingredients and cofactors. Turns out of course I am not alone – melatonin has won a lot of fans over the last decade.
A recent Australian article from 6 minutes revealed a significant increase in GPs prescribing melatonin for sleeping issues in children and then of course, there is its substantial use in cancer and typically at mega-doses that will make your toes curl.
But always in the back of my mind is the old me. Whispering things like, ‘ but melatonin isn’t a nutrient, nor a herb, so it’s not naturopathic’ – hence we can’t even prescribe it, needing to refer patients to others for access and yet more pressing, ‘what do we really know about the full implications of replacing such a potent and ubiquitous neurotransmitter?’ I know. This old me, she’s annoying, right.
But she’s also important.
So absolutely perfect timing then to hear about a homegrown (2 Aussie Naturopaths in fact) systematic review on the adverse effects & safety of melatonin which is full of important and surprising info and I think ….everyone…single…one…of…us needs to read it:
“While this review reveals a high degree of safety for melatonin with few adverse events that cannot be easily avoided or managed in most populations, it also reveals lack of clarity regarding melatonin’s relationship to endocrine processes, and its effect on hypertensive patients and potential drug interactions in this population.”
But the devil is in the detail.
So here’s a newsflash for you – 4 human studies found melatonin had negative effects on key aspects of reproduction, like sperm counts and ovulation and not at mega-doses my friends, no…at 2mg/d over several months. We shouldn’t be surprised, right, melatonin is critical to fertility cycles in all other animals…but how many health professionals know this, or not just know it…but make our recommendations with this in mind? Other studies reported fascinating impacts on insulin sensitivity (5mg) and amazingly, (or not being the king of all things circadian), opposing effects depending on the time of administration. Then there’s the drug interaction with anti-hypertensives…a negative one, I must add. No information still unfortunately about the impact of long-term replacement on our own endogenous production. Anyway…enough spoilers… READ THE ARTICLE. This hasn’t wiped melatonin off my list of potential recommendations all together but it has given me some serious food for thought and much greater clarity about in whom this suggestion should be off the menu.
‘Melatonin – Misunderstandings and Mistakes’ – this important 2017 clinical update about what we are getting right and wrong with Melatonin answers in particular, one of the most common sources of fascination & frustration for clinicians, the reasons behind the Melatonin non-responder. We’ve all encountered patients who have taken Melatonin for sleep problems and reported no benefit, or initially responded and then lost efficacy quickly, or even patients who experienced insomnia after taking. What does this tell you about your patient and what should you do to resolve this and better still, prevent it? This UU30 from 2017 reveals all!