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Melatonin: What does it do, really?

Written by: Marilyn Linton, QMI Agency
Jul. 22, 2013

Dan Race/Fotolia.com


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.”

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Other misconceptions abound, she says. “When some people hear the word hormone, they think estrogen and its link to cancer. They have this perception that taking hormones of any kind is bad, but melatonin is one of the safest hormones.” Anyone cautious about hormones made from animal parts can rest easy, she adds: Most melatonin now sold in Canada is synthetic and not derived from cow pineal glands.

“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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