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12-11-2013

Melatonin: a natural sleeping pill

The European Union has finally authorised a natural sleep aid: melatonin.

If you ask me, those responsible for banning this natural substance for so many years, based on absolutely no scientific evidence, when between 25% and 40% of the population suffer from sleep problems, are guilty of serious misconduct towards their citizens.

A smart lawyer could even pursue them for having:
    1. turned millions of people into addicts by forcing them to use chemical-based sleeping pills called benzodiazepines which are positively poisonous, while melatonin is natural and safe;
    2. helping to suck money out of health insurance funds through their stupidity (or corruption?): melatonin is very inexpensive and unlike industrial sleeping pills, is not covered by any patent and therefore costs considerably less;
    3. deprived people of a natural, safe substance with many other health advantagess.
But let’s be positive, and focus on the benefits you’ll now be able to gain from melatonin:

An effective aid against insomnia

As daylight fades, the pineal gland in your brain starts to secrete melatonin, a natural hormone that prepares your body for sleep and rest.

In fact, the pineal gland is directly connected to the optic nerves: it is in direct contact with light. That’s why melatonin is known as the hormone that regulates your body clock, also referred to as the sleep-wake cycle or circadian rhythm. It’s also why blind people often have trouble sleeping.

Without exception, all living organisms have melatonin : animals, plants, algae, bacteria, etc. It enables them to adapt to day and night as well as to the changing seasons.

According to scientists, melatonin may be linked to the appearance of life on earth itself and may be one of the oldest molecules, unchanged since the dawn of humanity.

However, many factors ubiquitous in modern life slow down or block melatonin production: electric light, drugs and electromagnetic waves, for example.

If you suffer from insomnia, taking a little melatonin in the evening before you go to bed can thus help reintroduce you to restorative, quality sleep. But before I explain how, let’s start by looking at these ‘anti-melatonin’ factors, because it’s by protecting yourself from these that you’ll be able to improve your sleep quality.

Drugs

If we exclude tobacco and alcohol, the worst offender in terms of destroying our natural reserves of melatonin is regularly taking certain drugs, particularly sleeping tablets and anti-anxiety medications, which doctors often prescribe for insomnia!!

This is particularly concerning given that one in five people (22% of the French population) take such drugs for longer than a month, despite recommendations to the contrary.

Even more worrying is the fact that these drugs are increasingly being given to young people: 6% of under-25s say they have taken them.

Finally, almost half (49%) of over-75s admit to taking them on a regular basis despite potential links between this group of drugs and certain diseases of the nervous system such as Alzheimer’s!

It doesn’t make sense

What’s more, sleeping pills and anxiolytics are far from the only drugs to destroy melatonin. They also include aspirin, ibuprofen, beta-blockers, calcium antagonists and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories - 75 medicines in all, containing more than 120 different substances, which are taken regularly by millions of people across the world.

Beta-blockers, in particular, are so effective at destroying melatonin that scientists use them to suppress melatonin production in laboratory experiments on animals. They are very widely-prescribed for high blood pressure and certain cardiac arrhythmias (Propranolol).

It’s not surprising that patients who take them suffer from insomnia. As demonstrated by Dr G M Braun in 1992, it takes less than half the beta-blocker dose normally prescribed to suppress melatonin production in humans, (1)

Electromagnetic fields also reduce melatonin levels.

When electromagnetic fields were applied to the heads of laboratory rats, it not only resulted in a fall of 50% in their melatonin levels, but also caused dysfunction to the pineal gland which secretes melatonin.

If you live in an urban environment, your body is likely to be surrounded by electromagnetic waves from various sources: mobile phones and masts, radios, electric appliances, for example. Our bodies cannot tell the difference between natural and synthetic energy fields. This invisible pollution has a direct effect on melatonin, which could explain why sleep problems constitute an epidemic that’s growing in industrialised countries.

One in five people in France suffer from chronic insomnia accompanied by fatigue or excessive daytime drowsiness.

And this cannot just be explained away by everyday problems, stress, busy lifestyles, or work pressures, etc.

Who can take it and why?

Melatonin may be especially helpful if you:
    • go to sleep late and wake up too early;
    • often wake up during the night and doze or take naps during the day;
    • have trouble falling asleep
    • do shift work (nurse, airline pilot, etc.)
There are no short, medium or long term negative effects on natural secretion by the pineal gland from taking a melatonin supplement. This means melatonin supplementation is non habit-forming

A key advantage of melatonin is that, unlike sleeping pills and anxiolytics, it does not affect memory or cognitive function.

Melatonin is particularly effective for those over 45 who have poor quality sleep and who wake up a lot in the night.

Jetlag

A number of studies show that melatonin significantly reduces the effects of jetlag. It not only enables you to fall asleep more quickly once you arrive at your destination, but it helps your biological clock adapt to the local time zone. Thus by regulating your internal body clock, it halves the number of days during which jetlag is normally experienced.

. That’s the reason it’s so popular with pilots and cabin crew.

How much should you take?

To improve sleep, a low dose of melatonin is more effective than a high one. Effects can be felt from doses starting at 1mg/day, to be taken half an hour before going to bed.

Taking more than 2mg/day is more effective in terms of sleep but it may produce drowsiness the following morning. You can try different doses to work out your own tolerance.

Toxicity

Melatonin is considered a very safe product by the authorities. As of 16 May 2012, melatonin product labels are allowed to state that it “helps reduce the effects of jetlag”, and “reduces the time it takes to get to sleep” (EU Commission Ruling n°432/2012).

When you consider how difficult it is for over-the-counter natural products to get authorisation from Brussels for this type of therapeutic claim, this represents a significant show of recognition for melatonin.

However, those suffering from cancer or epilepsy should never take melatonin without medical supervision. If you wish to benefit from the effects of melatonin while on chemotherapy, do so only with your doctor’s approval.

Your very good health!

Jean-Marc Dupuis

This letter has been adapted from an article first published on santenatureinnovation.com, with their permission.



References :

(1) Long J.W. et Rybacki J.J..The essential guide to prescription drugs-1995, New York: Harperperrenial, 1995, p.863
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