Melatonin Topics

The History of Melatonin

A tryptophane-derived hormone, melatonin has a history that begins 40 years before its discovery! Back at that time humans just figured that feeding cow pineal gland extract to tadpoles – yeah, those little fishie-like amphibian larvas! – would change their color. I totally agree with you, I also kept thinking since I found out: why in the world would one end-up feeding pineal gland extract to tadpoles?… It must have surely been an interesting story. I will look it up one day and tell you what I found out. Nevertheless, tadpoles turned darker after they eat the pineal gland and this led to a quite new direction of research. The subsequent hopes for the “whatever” located in the pineal gland was that it could treat vitiligo or reverse hyperpigmentation. It was this focus that led Dr. Learner and colleagues to the discovery of melatonin. This surely explains why his research group was a … dermatology group!
Sadly for the hopes of anyone involved, melatonin failed to treat vitiligo. As you may notice in the infographic provided, for a good two decades little progress was made in melatonin research. It was late 70s and early 80’s that scientists decided to explore the behavior-related effects of melatonin.


The graph shows the number of articles about melatonin published each year as indexed by PubMed.gov. Click the graph to learn more about the publication history of melatonin.

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How big is melatonin?

Melatonin is a small hormone synthesized from and of comparable size with the amino acid tryptophan.

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How does melatonin work?

Darkness leads to production of melatonin by the pineal gland (peak concentrations between 11 pm and 3 am). It will then be released to signal the body to go to sleep. Melatonin receptors are scattered throughout the body, on the cell membranes of all the organs that should be at rest/sleep at night. Its signaling interferes with several signaling pathways and processes, hence an imbalanced production may lead to severe consequences.

The graph shows the number of articles about melatonin and sleep published each year as indexed by PubMed.gov. Click the graph to learn more about the publication history of melatonin as an sleep treatment.

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Does melatonin impact cancer risk?

The short answer – YES! As the graph below shows, scientists only came to explore any cancer related effects after 70s, but the research on the topic has intensified significantly over the last two decades. Studies support the hypothesis that melatonin lowers cancer risk and that individuals with disturbed circadian rhythm have a higher risk to be diagnosed with cancer.


The graph shows the number of articles about published about melatonin and cancer each year as indexed by PubMed.gov. Click the graph to learn more about the publication history of melatonin and cancer.

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Does melatonin impact reproduction?

Yes! In fact its role in reproduction has been identified long before its role in the circadian rhythm regulation. Check out my post with more info about this. The graph below shows just how much the attention shifted from melatonin’s influence on reproduction to its role on diabetes, cancer, insomnia and other.


The graph shows the number of articles about published about melatonin and reproduction each year as indexed by PubMed.gov. Click the graph to learn more about the publication history of melatonin and reproduction.

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Does melatonin impact inflammation?

Yes. Lack of melatonin leads to insulin resistance and will negatively impact inflammation. This was an information only discovered and explored more in the recent decade. The graph below clarifies that we did not know much about it for along while.


The graph shows the number of articles about published about melatonin and inflammation each year as indexed by PubMed.gov. Click the graph to learn more about the publication history of melatonin and inflammation.

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Does melatonin impact type 2 diabetes?

Yes. Melatonin lowers insulin resistance, hence improves type 2 diabetes.


The graph shows the number of articles about published about melatonin and diabetes each year as indexed by PubMed.gov. Click the graph to learn more about the publication history of melatonin and diabetes.

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Does melatonin impact Alzheimer’s disease?


The graph shows the number of articles about melatonin and Alzheimer’s disease published each year as indexed by PubMed.gov. Click the graph to learn more about the publication history of melatonin and Alzheimer’s disease.
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What are the doses and formulations of melatonin?

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What should I do if I have side effects?

Melatonin is currently available over-the-counter (without a prescription) in the United States, Canada and a few countries in Europe. The supplement may require a prescription or may be unavailable in other countries around the globe. If available, the dosage forms available vary from a country to another one. This is why, whenever possible, I tried to identify the local product that you will find marketed near you.
The vast majority of melatonin products are for oral administration, both pills or liquids. The compound used for the preparation is chemically synthesized and any claims of a “natural” product are generally indicative of a marketing bias. Some pills are designed to be placed in the cheek or under the tongue, while other can be swallowed. The first, however, will become effective quicker due to immediate absorption.
Melatonin is generally safe, but as with all drugs this statement cannot be extended to each and everyone. Some people are different – we know that. Do read the package insert carefully and know what to watch for. Melatonin may cause headache, short-term feelings of depression, daytime sleepiness, dizziness, stomach cramps, and irritability. If you experience any of these symptoms, be fair in your assessment. Absolutely discontinue the drug if the symptoms correlate with the occurrence of a symptom that you never had before and cannot be caused by anything else. Feel free to contact me with any questions if you experience any of these symptoms while taking melatonin! Being pregnant or nursing or having a prior diagnosis of another medical condition may interfere with taking melatonin. Reach out and let me evaluate the potential risks. Importantly, however: remember that other treatment alternatives will not be side effect free either. So, be mindful in ruling out your options! This is true for any drug treatment.

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