Several Canadian media outlets, including CTV on February 1 and CBC on February 17 have launched assaults on the natural sleep remedy.

The CBC article warns that melatonin “may not be beneficial for everyone,” which is true of any drug or supplement: hardly a lead salvo in an attack on melatonin.

It goes on to say that “sleep is a very complicated issue” and that “one of the concerns is that if people are just using melatonin as a Band-Aid, they might not be addressing an underlying issue." Again true. Obviously if there is an underlying issue causing the insomnia, that issue needs to be addressed. But, again, that is true of any drug or supplement. The same is true for sedatives, benzodiazepines and other drugs offered to people with insomnia.

Doubt is further cast on melatonin because, although it “is considered to be relatively safe for most people, but it's important to know that the long-term effects of using it at higher doses are still unclear.” The article says that “higher doses could cause such side-effects as dizziness, nausea, headaches and muscle aches.”

However, for most people, a low dose of 3mg is more than enough. There is no need to use high doses. And, although there may be questions to be answered about high dose melatonin, it is interesting that cancer studies have safely used doses as high as 20mg.

But there is also the question of the relative safety of the pharmaceutical alternatives. If high dose melatonin may cause dizziness, nausea, headache and muscle ache, sedative sleeping medications are highly addictive and cannot be used long term. They also cause dizziness, impaired coordination, drowsiness and hang over effect. More importantly, they can cause severe memory impairment, confusion, nervousness, irritability, aggressiveness, irregular behaviour and even hallucinations. Ironically, sleeping pills also impair sleep quality: they actually impair deep sleep and disturb healthy sleep rhythms. Recent research has even found that benzodiazepines can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s (BMJ 2012;345:e6231; BMJ 2014;349:g5205).

 Why is the media targeting melatonin all of a sudden? There are three possible reasons.

The first is it really works.

The second is that it is growing in popularity. The negative melatonin articles were triggered by a February 2022 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found that melatonin use had significantly increased from 1999 to 2018.

The third is COVID. The first double-blind study of melatonin and COVID has now been published. 44 people with mild to moderate COVID were given either standard care or standard care plus 3mg of melatonin 3 times a day for 14 days. The ones given melatonin had significantly greater improvement in cough, difficulty breathing, fatigue and pulmonary involvement. They also had lower levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein than the control group. Most importantly, the melatonin group were discharged from hospital significantly faster and returned to normal health significantly faster (Arch Med Res 2021 Jun 23;S0188-4409(21)00141-7). In a subgroup of patients in the same study, melatonin was also shown to reduce inflammatory cytokines and modulate the immune system (Eur J Pharmacol 2021 Aug 5;904:174193).

This double-blind study has received very little attention. The melatonin was effective and safe. It is inexpensive and readily available. And it is, as the Cleveland Clinic has said, a promising treatment for COVID.

For all the info you need on melatonin for sleep, see Vol. 21, No. 10 of The Natural Path. For everything else melatonin can do, see Vol. 21, No. 7.


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