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Melatonin Supplements Review
by Shelley Greenhouse
Melatonin. The fairest presentation I have seen was in an article published in Mirabella. In the article, they wrote about various claims, and gave it (or a placebo) to willing staffers, who then reported their experiences. I don't place much credence in the popular level books (this said without having read a single one), because of the publisher's drive to get the most hype for the buck (in the article, I think, one researcher said that the publisher 'insisted' saying that melatonin improved sex, and the researcher qualified the statement by saying that if you are well rested, then maybe sex would improve). The Mirabella issue was very recent (I saw it in January).
My own personal experience was looking at lower vertebrates (mostly snakes, fish, frogs and the like) examining how melatonin secretion was controlled (via light and biochemically). Melatonin is secreted at night (or in darkness) and light flashes during the dark can suppress or diminish melatonin's secretion. I would try taking very low doses (.3 mg) in the evening, as it gets dark (altho' one fit-l'er says he takes it a little before bedtime - I would experiment to see when the best time is), and I can't attest to which mass-market preparation works.
The most often mentioned side effects were extremely vivid (bordering on nightmarish) dreams (discovered and abused by thrill seeking college students) and grogginess or headaches in the morning (caused by taking melatonin too late at night and resetting your clock later).
Other species use melatonin as a seasonal indicator (winter's long nights mean a longer melatonin pulse, summer's short nights mean a short melatonin pulse).
The duration of melatonin secretion can affect the reproductive system and while this effect hasn't been well studied in man, I would be worried about fertility problems. Anecdotally, three of us were trying to get pregnant (two women and one man, not with each other but with our spouses who didn't work in the lab) and we all had problems.
I would also experiment with dose and possibly adjust the dose for the season (my instinct would be to take less during the summer if you begin to experience problems with grogginess or depression). Realize too, that excessive melatonin secretion is implicated in SAD (seasonal affective disorders), where the treatment is sitting in front of bright, full-spectrum light early in the morning. I can go into gory detail about how photoreceptors work and who has directly photosensitive pineals (man doesn't, the pineal gets its information about light levels via the eyes, even in the blind!). If you are taking melatonin, I would really try to avoid light exposure at night, too, at least in the core of the night (11 p.m. to 5 a.m.)- no spouses reading in bed next to the sleeper, no nightlights, and even room-darkening shades, as it takes surprisingly little light exposure to diminish or stop melatonin secretion.
I am getting an incredible kick out of seeing my favorite hormone make the big time (ahh, if we had only known then....my major professor used to complain that 7-11 managers made more money than us!)
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The information presented is intended to be used for educational purposes only. The statements made have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (U.S.). This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any condition or disease. Please consult with your own physician or health care practitioner regarding any suggestions and recommendations made.