Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland which is located near the centre of the brain. This gland releases melatonin which regulates the sleep-wake or circadian rhythms (the internal body clock). An external cue, such as sunlight, facilitates the release of the melatonin hormone into the blood. At night, when there is no sunlight, melatonin is released from the storage and it can have a drowsing effect.
Is melatonin a miracle drug?
Melatonin made headlines in the USA as a so called "miracle drug". Ever since then melatonin is considered to have all kinds of "miraculous" effects. It is not only meant to be "life-prolonging" but it is also meant to be effective in the treatment of AIDS, arteriosclerosis, Alzheimer's, cancer and have positive effects on fertility. According to the BgVV* [Lit-1] there is no sufficient scientific information on the effects (both positive and negative) of melatonin.
Melatonin production in the body decreases with age. This led to the belief that melatonin influences ageing and age-related illnesses. However, the age-related reduction of melatonin could simply be a consequence of ageing and not its cause.
Many scientific studies show indications of a drowsing effect of melatonin. Melatonin could therefore possibly be used to help people suffering from insomnia. There are, however, no studies to indicate which patients can profit from which dosage.
[Lit-1] Bundesinstitut für gesundheitlichen Verbraucherschutz und Veterinärmedizin, 22/95, 30. October 1995,"Wunderdroge" Melatonin ist kein Nahrungsergänzungsmittel - *(a German federal institution for risk assessment)
[Lit-2] Gemeinsame Presseerklärung des Bundesinstituts für Arzneimittel und Medizinprodukte und des Bundesinstituts für gesundheitlichen Verbraucherschutz und Veterinärmedizin, 13/96, 14. Juni 1996, Melatonin als Arzneimittel zulassungspflichtig - Empfehlung der Bundesinstitute erfolgt dosisunabhängig
Is Melatonin harmful?
Experts warn not to take uncontrolled amounts of melatonin. The long-term effects have not yet been examined. Side-effects have also not been scientifically examined and so they are usually based on assumptions. If the body is receiving an external supply of melatonin, it may "switch off" the body's own production.
Melatonin is a substance with a pharmacological effect. It is not a dietary supplement. [Lit-2]
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