Inadequate sleep/ insomnia is currently a global issue with sleep problems experienced with a large part of the population world wide. Loss of sleep in the form of disturbed sleep cycles/ inability to sleep at the desired time impacts the physical health of the individual with impacts on their mental well-being. Medications for a peaceful night’s sleep are many. But the need of the hour is an effective and safe option that does not increase tolerance levels or poses the risk of addiction after some time.
Melatonin is one such compound that is available in your body and can be additionally used as a supplement.
Melatonin is a natural product/ hormone found in plants and animals that is associated with regulation of the sleep-wake cycle. In plants it serves the purpose of antioxidants and prevents cell damage. In animals melatonin is provided by the pineal gland in the brain and released to the food stream to help regulate circadian rhythms and sleep cycles.
Apart from its natural sourcing, Melatonin is also available as a supplement and commonly used by adults and children for sleep improvement and for other purposes. Melatonin produced by the body is produced in the absence of light and referred to as exogenous melatonin. Synthetic melatonin is produced chemically and belongs to the acetamide group with a miscellaneous anxiolytic class of drugs.
What is melatonin used for?
Out of the numerous uses of Melatonin, the most common uses are
1) It plays an important role in the regulation of sleep wake cycles. Human melatonin is at its highest levels at birth and gradually decreases as we grow older.
2) It has been proved in clinical trials of being an effective lipophilic antioxidant and possessing double the activity of Vitamin E.
3) It has anti-inflammatory properties that enable it to help the body in counteracting acquired immunodeficiencies.
4) Studies have even suggested Melatonin’s role in fighting infectious diseases
5) Medically Melatonin supplement is used in the treatment of sleep disorders like insomnia and circadian disorders like jet lag disorder and shift work disorder.
Recently its role in weight regulation, as a diet supplement and in increasing muscle mass is gaining a lot of attention.
How Melatonin helps in fat loss?
Spanish scientists have discovered that Melatonin stimulates the appearance of beige fat in the body. Beige fat cells are derived from white fat cells and increased in response to cold temperature. Beige fat cells behave like white fat cells till activated by a process called browning. After being browned, they start to behave like brown fat and burn other white fat for energy. The process of browning of white fat occurs through the process of:
– social interaction
– cold exposure
– mild forms of stress
Melatonin through stimulation of appearance of beige fat, helps maintain regular weight and helps in fat loss from the body. In the “Journal of Pineal Research”, scientists from Institute of Granada institute of Neuroscience have postulated that chronic melatonin consumption not only induces the appearance of beige fat in obese diabetic rats but also increases its presence in thin animals used as control group.
Being made in the absence of darkness, scientists have come to the theory that sleeping in the dark and consuming melatonin rich food can help control body weight. Additionally it can prevent cardiovascular diseases associated with obesity and dyslipidemia.
What do studies say?
In a study conducted to understand the role of melatonin in reduction of body fat, 81 females were enrolled in a study. Out of the 81 subjects, 56 women were between the age group 51-65 years while 25 women were in between the age group 27-36 years. The patients were divided into 3 groups as follows.
Group 1 or control group – 25 women with normal body weight
Group 2 – 26 post menopausal women with normal body weight
Group 3 – 30 post menopausal women with high body weight
The women from group 2 and 3 were checked for systemic parameters like TSH, FSH and other routine laboratory tests before proceeding for the main examination date. On that day they remained on a liquid diet of 1800 kcal. Next a balanced diet of 1500 kcal and 5 mg Melatonin administration were recommended to them. Follow up examinations were performed in 4, 8, 12, 16, 20 and 24 weeks.
In the initial phases of the study, anxiety and mild depression with depressed sleep cycles were observed in group 2 and 3. After week 24, the body weight decreased and there was no tendency for its gain. The results of the study proved that melatonin could be safely and permanently used in combined treatment of obesity in menopausal women. The study further proved that post menopausal women demonstrated reduced nocturnal secretion of melatonin. Melatonin supplements could beneficially affect sleep cycles with body weight reduction.
Melatonin and lean body mass
Lean body mass consists of the bones, ligaments, tendons, internal organs and muscles. Because of the small amount of fat incorporated within these structures, a small amount of essential fat is included as well in the lean body mass of an individual. Having a high percentage of lean mass boosts your metabolism and makes it easy to maintain overall healthy weight. A high proportion of lean mass also reduces inflammation.
A healthy body fat percentage is between 15-20 % for men and 20-25% for women. Meaning, a healthy lean mass is between 80-85% for men and 75-80% for women.
In an animal study conducted to analyze the effects of melatonin on body composition, physical performance and blood erythrocytes, it was observed that
– Melatonin treatment led to lean body mass and total body water on day 7 without affecting fat mass.
– On the 14th day, the lean body mass increased in comparison with the corresponding parameter in control and placebo groups.
Increased lean body mass or muscle gain has aesthetic, fitness and metabolic benefits. Melatonin has the potential to work on three of these parameters and provide a better environment for muscle growth.
In a human study conducted to examine the effects of melatonin on chemical reactions and muscle damage in resistance trained athletes, 24 subjects were selected for the study. These subjects were subjected to Melatonin 100mg /day and a placebo. High intensity exercises were performed by the athletes during the trial period of the study. The results of the study proved the followings:
– Melatonin supplementation appeared to prevent the chemical toxins created during oxidative stress/strenuous exercising better than placebo group.
– Participants taking melatonin experienced less exercise-induced muscle damage from oxidative stress compared to the placebo group.
– Total cholesterol levels were reduced in the melatonin group compared to placebo.
– Protective enzymes secretion during this time period was higher in the melatonin group as compared to placebo group.
Through the small trial, researchers concluded that melatonin was beneficial to resistance-trained athletes and helped in healthy body parameters in that group.
Melatonin prescriptions have increased from 2-19.9 per thousand people between 2008-2019. Prescriptions for licensed Melatonin supplements increased from 6.5% -88.2%, spending on unlicensed Melatonin supplements accounted for the total prescription cost in 2019. Practices were higher proportion of children and older people and those serving deprived patient populations recorded higher rates of melatonin prescriptions. Overall melatonin prescribing in England has increased exponentially over the last decade. But the prescriptions are also associated with a large number of unlicensed products of unknown quality.
Side-effects however rare can occur on injudicious/unsolicited use of the medication.
Side-effects associated with use of Melatonin
Studies have reported very few adverse effects on use of Melatonin. Of these, the most common side effects are-headache, nausea, dizziness, drowsiness.
Apart from these other side-effects like tremors, low blood pressure, irritability, depression and confusion/ disorientation has been observed by users with long term use of the medication.
Because of the FDA not regulating manufacture of melatonin supplements, there is a concern that the quantities of certain melatonin products may exceed the maximum allowed prescription strength.
It is important to use the medication as per the treatment plan of the practitioner and use it for a short term to avoid undue complications.
Some of the important precautions that should be taken care of with Melatonin use are
Using Melatonin concomitantly with a few prescribed medications may result in side-effects or decreased efficiency of either medication. Anti-coagulants, anticonvulsants, blood pressure drugs and CNS depressants being a few of these medications.
People prohibited from using the medication
You should not use Melatonin if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Additionally the medication should be used very carefully in people with a previous history of drug addiction, those on antidepressants or avoided altogether.
There is no evidence that Melatonin causes depression. But it should be used with care in such cases to avoid any associated complications.
The high demand for Melatonin has resulted in a number of illegal practices associated with the medication. Always opt for genuine Melatonin supplements to avoid any spurious product related complications.
How to obtain Melatonin?
Physician’s clinics enable you to obtain the prescription for the medication. Along with dispensing the medication and its subsequent refills, they enable you to avail it under NHS concession.
You can obtain the medication from registered pharmacies after sharing with them your prescription
Online portals enable you to order the medication from home without having to go out. Online delivery ensures you get to avail Melatonin in a quick, easy and cost effective manner.