The Dangers of Melatonin Supplements

August 28, 2023 7 mins to read
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Melatonin is a popular supplement for those who have trouble sleeping. However there is a negative feedback system at play, whereby the bodies own production of melatonin declines in response to elevated levels from supplements. In this article I go over how the negative feedback system works with melatonin supplements which makes them dangerous, as well as some healthy natural alternatives to improve your sleep.

Negative Feedback Loop

I want to point out that extent to which melatonin supplementation affects the body’s natural melatonin production can differ from person to person. And while short term melatonin supplementation is generally considered safe, long-term use could lead to the body becoming dependent on external melatonin for sleep regulation. With that in mind below is step-by-step how external sources of melatonin can downregulate the pineal glands own production of melatonin.

  1. Exogenous (External) Melatonin: When you consume melatonin supplements, you’re introducing an external source of melatonin into your body. This supplemental source of melatonin can temporarily increase the circulating levels of melatonin in your bloodstream.
  2. Feedback to the Pineal Gland: The body’s natural regulatory mechanisms sense the increased melatonin levels in the bloodstream, which is not produced by the pineal gland but rather introduced from an external (supplemental) source. This feedback is similar to the body’s response to any external source of a hormone or compound.
  3. Endogenous (Internal) Production Suppression: In response to the elevated melatonin levels in the blood (from supplemented melatonin), the pineal gland’s reduces its own production of melatonin. This is a result of the body interpreting the increased levels of melatonin as a signal that it doesn’t need to produce as much melatonin internally. This is a normal and necessary regulatory mechanism.
  4. Dependency on Supplemented Melatonin: With long term melatonin supplementation, the body may become reliant on the external (supplemented) melatonin. As a consequence, the natural signals that would normally trigger the pineal glands production of melatonin can become less effective, leading to a potential downregulation of the body’s own (internal) melatonin production.
  5. Tapering and Discontinuation of Melatonin Supplements: If you decide to stop melatonin supplementation after a period of consistent use, your body may need some time to readjust and regain its natural ability to produce melatonin in adequate quantities. This can lead to temporary disruption in your sleep patterns (falling asleep, sleep duration and sleep quality), until your body’s internal clock & melatonin production normalize over time.

Alternative Supplements for Sleep

There are some great holistic remedies to aid in sleep, both lifestyle and dietary or supplemental.

Diet & Lifestyle

  1. Practice sleep hygiene: have a nighttime routine, an alarm or scheduled time when electronics are turned off, a winddown routine of activities that help you relax.
  2. Ensure you are not disturbed: If needed put a do not disturb sign on your door or set your phone to do not disturb so your sleep isn’t interrupted. If family is a factor here, enlist your spouse or a family member(s) to help, or make them aware of your new routine and it’s importance to your health.
  3. Wear bluelight blocking glasses: These can be purchased online (Amazon) are are relatively inexpensive. They usually have a yellow or red coating (the clear ones are not as effective), and are advertised as ‘bluelight blocking glasses’. In the age of electronics it’s almost impossible to get away from our screens, and for some of us watching a movie may be a way to unwind, though I’d caution to avoid social media and doom scrolling, due to it’s potential negative psychological effects. Therefore bluelight blocking classes can be a natural remedy.
  4. Avoid large meals and meals before bed – Try to avoid eating at least 3 hours before bed. Make your lunch your largest meal instead of your supper, and if possible have a smaller and lighter supper. There are a plethora of negative effects attributed to consuming large meals before bed…doing so can spike blood glucose, give you excess energy, lead to acid reflux, and more which can also all negatively impact sleep.
  5. Eat a Balanced Diet – Try to eat a balanced whole foods meal with healthy fats like grassfed butter, quality lean protein like chicken breast, and fish (also has healthy fats), complex carbs and protein. Try to avoid food additives and chemicals, whenever possible.

Herbs & Supplements

  1. Hormone Balance – This can often be at the root of sleep issues. Getting a hormone panel can help gauge if hormone imbalances are a factor in your sleep issues.
  2. Vitamin D + K2 – is a hormone that can have an indirect affect on sleep due to it’s affect on other hormones and potential to affect other biological functions and ones circadian rhythm. K2 works synergistically with Vitamin D to help route calcium into the bones, preventing arterial (artery) calcification.
  3. Magnesium – A common deficiency in many. Magnesium is well studied for it’s relaxing and calming effects. Magnesium Bisgylcinate, glycinate, or citrate are all effects, threonate is more expensive but cross the BBB (Blood Brain Barrier) and can therefore have a more profound effect on the brain, but it’s also a more most expensive form.
  4. Lavender – An alternative medicine remedy to help calm and relax the mind; it is also well studied for it’s aforementioned effects. How you administer it is up to you, either a few drops on your pillow or use an incense burner, nebulizer or humidifier that has a spot for essential oils. You can also dilute it and spray some on your bedding or in the air for a fragrant and relaxing aroma.
  5. L-Theanine – Commonly found in tea leaves, particularly in green tea. It has gained attention for its potential role in promoting relaxation and sleep, with some preliminary research backing it’s sleep benefits. It can help with relaxation and stress reduction through it’s production of neurotransmitters like GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid).
  6. GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) – is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that can calm brain activity. It has an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) affect and promotes relaxation, which can help individuals to fall asleep and enjoy a restful sleep. Supplementation may not always reach the brain due to the BBB (Blood Brain Barrier), but some positive effects have still been reported.

There are many other remedies including dietary and lifestyle suggestions, that can be included as part of a holistic nutritional plan to address your unique health status and sleep difficulties. You an Book an appointment if you want to work with a professional to improve your sleep and quality of life.

Consult a Professional

If you’re considering using melatonin supplements, it’s a good idea to book an appointment with me or consult a physician who specializes in sleep medicine, to determine the appropriate dosage and duration. They can provide guidance on how to use melatonin supplements effectively while minimizing potential disruptions to your body’s natural melatonin production. You should also always contact your physician and pharmacist (in addition to working with a professional like me), especially if you have health conditions, are pregnant of breastfeeding or are on medications.

Conclusion

In this day and age sleep issues are commonplace. Sleep is the foundation of good health, and without adequate amounts, your quality of life is greatly affected. This article covers a range of dietary and lifestyle suggestions, you may try to help improving your sleep. However it’s important to point out that each individuals health status is different, and working with a professional is the best way to ensure a holistic nutritional plan is tailored to best meet your unique needs. And always work with a health professional before starting new supplement, especially if you have health conditions or are on medications, are pregnant or are breastfeeding.

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