Most of you have heard of melatonin before, but it’s likely that you usually only hear about it in regards to insomnia or sleep issues. What you may not know is that it seems to play a role in other health concerns we frequently hear about, including cancers, hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease, just to name a few.
Melatonin is a compound in our body that helps to regulate sleep as well as other physiological rhythms in our body. It is secreted by the pineal gland and is a hormone that is affected by light. Light suppresses levels of melatonin, while darkness helps to trigger our body to secrete more of this compound. What’s interesting about melatonin is that its levels start to wane as we age and certain medications seem to alter its levels in our body as well.
While the long-term side effects of frequently altering our natural melatonin secretion is not completely well understood, there is some concern that long-term alterations to normal secretion patterns can have other negative health effects. That is why sometimes you may hear from the medical community about concerns for night workers and their overall health.
Because melatonin has antioxidant effects in our body, there is growing interest in its benefits for patients with neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease. There is even growing interest in using melatonin for stroke patients and those with high blood pressure.
Early studies suggest that there may be some benefit from melatonin use in patients with cancer. Some of these studies suggest that patients on melatonin had better response to chemotherapy in breast cancer patients, and some of the side effects and anxiety associated with therapy were somewhat mitigated — more so in the melatonin users compared to those not on melatonin.
There was a meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials using melatonin as adjuvant therapy or alone for cancer patients, and researchers found that there was a 34 percent relative risk reduction in death in the melatonin user group.
Another study looked at patients who had advanced cancer in the breast, lung, gastrointestinal tract, head or neck. When given chemotherapy either alone or with 20 mg/day of melatonin, there was a reduction in side effects of low platelet count, fatigue, mouth sores, heart complications, and neurotoxicity in the melatonin group, and higher rate of survival.
There is even some indication that melatonin may be helpful with migraines. There was a study that looked at migraine sufferers who were given 3mg of melatonin about 30 minutes before bedtime every night for three months. Of the patients who finished the study, two-thirds of the patients seemed to have a 50 percent reduction, and the severity and duration of migraines were less severe.
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