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Can’t sleep? Pop some melatonin, some say. But relying on melatonin as a nighttime calmer and sleep-maker is just one of the many misconceptions people have about this natural health product. Supplements of melatonin (a natural hormone produced by the brain’s pineal gland) have been sold over-the-counter in Canada since 2004.
Its connection to the sleep/wake cycle has been scientifically established, says Toronto naturopath Penny Kendall-Reed (www.pkrhealth.ca), but it is neither a sleeping pill nor a sedative. “Some people take it and wonder why they have not fallen asleep. But it has no sedative properties. Instead it resets the sleep/wake cycle and pushes you into stage four sleep, that deep healing kind of sleep.”
“People also get concerned that if they take melatonin all the time, they will teach their body not to make its own,” says Kendall-Reed. But that’s also a misconception: “Your pineal gland will take over if you don’t take melatonin one night.” She also disputes the notion that it could be addictive.
As for melatonin’s potential as a disease-fighter, studies in the past few years have shown that (in rats, at least) it’s a superstar hormone that can do everything from protecting against Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases to controlling weight gain. Today’s internet is bloated with promises of melatonin as a panacea for the body’s ills.
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