Archives for posts with tag: Melatonin: Your Body’s Natural Wonder Drug

“Foods High in Melatonin:

Sweet corn

Tryptophan Increases Melatonin Production

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, one of the building blocks of protein that we cannot synthesize within our bodies and therefore must get from our diet. Tryptophan is the molecule from which melatonin is derived. Your pineal gland synthesizes melatonin by converting tryptophan to serotonin and then to melatonin. Studies have shown that if you increase your intake of tryptophan, you increase your production of melatonin.

Foods Rich in Tryotophan:

Spirulina seaweed
Soy nuts
Cottage cheese
Chicken liver
Pumpkin seeds
Watermelon seeds


Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center measured the nighttime melatonin production of eight women who meditated regularly and compared them with the nighttime levels of eight non-meditating women. The meditating women had significantly higher amounts of the hormone.


Of all the known ways to stimulate melatonin production, none is more dramatic than smoking marijuana. Marijuana stimulates production of a prostaglandin called PGE2, which may relate to its ability to stimulate melatonin production. Italian researchers discovered that when eight men smoked a cigarette containing the active ingredient in marijuana, THC, they had dramatically higher melatonin levels twenty minutes later. After two hours, their melatonin levels were 4,000 higher than at baseline!

The fact that smoking marijuana is accompanied by a dramatic increase in melatonin production may explain some of the drug’s positive effects. A 1995 article in The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the hallucinogen is being used to counteract the toxicity of chemotherapy, treat migraines, reduce intraocular pressure, minimize pain, treat menstrual cramps, and moderate wasting syndrome in AIDS patients. Melatonin has been shown to ameliorate each and every one of these conditions.

Smoking marijuana as a vehicle to increase melatonin production, however, may not be a good idea. The increase is so marked that it is not likely to be beneficial, especially if one smokes marijuana during the daytime, when melatonin levels are normally so low that they are just above the level of detection. Causing such a dramatic surge in melatonin levels in the daytime could phase-shift your circadian rhythms or interfere with your health in other as yet unknown ways.”

Excerpted from Melatonin: Your Body’s Natural Wonder Drug, Chapter 16, pages 193-199.


Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are a family of pain relievers that includes aspirin, ibuprofen and indomethacin. Volunteers who took just one normal dose of aspirin or ibuprofen in the evening had as much as a 75 percent reduction in melatonin levels.

Anti-Anxiety Drugs and Sleep Aids

At least two widely prescribed anti-anxiety drugs, diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax), inhibit melatonin production. Both of these medications belong to a family of drugs called benzodiazepines (which we discussed in more detail in Chapter 8).


Many antidepressant drugs stimulate melatonin production. But the most popular antidepressant drug, fluoxetine (Prozac), which has annual sales in the United States of more than a billion dollars, could lower your melatonin levels.A study published in The British Journal of Psychiatry in 1995 reports that depressed patients who took fluoxetine had significantly lower nocturnal melatonin levels after one week of use. Subjects who were not depressed who took fluoxetine also had lower melatonin levels after one week, and their levels declined even further after six weeks of use.


Caffeine has been used for centuries to increase alertness, but we learned oly recently that it achieves this end, in part, by blocking the production of melatonin. Given caffeine’s reputation for disturbing sleep, it’s remarkable that no one explored the caffeine-melatonin connection until 1994. Dr. Kenneth Wright, Jr., and his colleagues at Bowling Green State University measured the melatonin levels of a group of individuals who volunteered to stay awake for two consecutive days. Some were given a placebo and others were given 200 milligrams of caffeine, which is equivalent to two strong cups of coffee. Compared with the placebo, caffeine caused a significant reduction in their melatonin levels.


At least two studies have suggested that people who smoke cigaret8tes have lower nighttime melatonin levels than people who don’t. One of the studies, published n 1994, reported that “all the smokers had lower melatonin levels than non-smokers. The relation between smoking and melatonin concentrations needs to be further studied.”


A 1993 study showed that volunteers who drank the equivalent of one or two glasses of wine at seven o’clock in the evening had 41 percent less melatonin at midnight compared with nights when they were given a nonalcoholic drink. When they were given higher doses of alcohol, they had low melatonin levels until the early hours of the morning.

Could this be why alcohol disrupts sleep? Although alcohol may ease anxiety and help you fal;l asleep, it can produce a rebound effect several hours later, leaving you wide awake and staring at the clock. Studies have shown that alcohol decreases both REM sleep and delta sleep, which is the most restorative part of the sleep cycle. It also increases the number and duration of awakenings throughout the night.

Excerpted from Melatonin: Your Body’s Natural Wonder Drug, Chapter 15, pages 182-191.

“Melatonin–The Smoking Gun?

… statistical links were found between EMFs and other kinds of cancer, including melanoma, lymphoma, brain cancer, prostate cancer, and breast cancer. More recently, other conditions have been added to the list, most notably spontaneous abortion, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.

But what do EMFs have to do with melatonin? There is the growing suspicion that EMFs could contribute to some or all of these diseases by interfering with the action of melatonin. In three different situations–the use of electric blankets in the home, exposure to EMFs in a laboratory setting, and exposure to a medical imaging device called an NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy)–EMFs have lowered melatonin levels in some people. Some scientists have gone so far as to call the EMF-melatonin connection the “smoking gun” that assures a guilty  verdict for EMFs. This connection, however, is far from proven.

Clock, Calendar, and Compass

We had no idea that EMFs had any effect on melatonin until the early 1980s, when a German zoologist named Peter Semm began investigating animal migration. One of the ways migrating birds orient themselves, Semm knew, is by detecting subtle changes in the earth’s energy fields, the magnetism that emanates from electrical currents deep within the earth. (These fields are the reason that a compass points north.) Semm wanted to know how animals detect these invisible energy fields. He reasoned that migrating animals need to orient themselves in both time and space to rendezvous at their chosen destinations. It was known that seasonal changes in melatonin production sent a time cue that caused “migratory restlessness,” compelling animals to band together and strike out for distant lands. He theorized that the pineal gland might also serve as a direction finder. After all, the gland is highly responsive to light, which is a visible form of electromagnetic energy. Perhaps it tuned in to lower frequency fields as well, Semm thought.

He tested his hypothesis on guinea pigs, applying magnetic fields to the heads of the rodents. The fields reduced the electrical activity of individual pineal cells by as much as 50 percent, he found. His intuition had been correct. A year later, a group of American researchers led by Bary Wilson exposed rats to electrical fields for twenty-one days and discovered that the fields abolished their nighttime rise in melatonin production. Other studies have shown that magnetic fields (as opposed to electric fields) may also influence the ability of the pineal gland to produce melatonin at night.

These discoveries may have uncovered yet another function of the multi-talented pineal gland. We now believe the gland links organisms with time and space in three vital ways: It synchronizes them with the twenty-four-hour day, it triggers seasonal changes, and it may also detect fluctuations in geomagnetic fields. In essence, the gland seems to function as a clock, calendar, and compass, answering these three vital questions–“What time of day is it?” “What is the season?” and “Where am I on the planet?”

Crossed Wires

Unfortunately, the all-purpose pineal gland has one major failing: It does not discriminate very well between natural and man-made energy fields. When migratory birds are placed in cages surrounded by electrical coils, these artificial energy fields conflict with the earth’s geomagnetic fields, sending confusing messages to the animals. No longer able to obtain a true compass reading, the birds may head off for Anchorage instead of Cancun.

The Human Compass

Such cross-wiring may take place in our own human brains. The first experimental evidence that the human pineal gland responds to natural energy fields came in 1986. Rolf Dubbels, Ph.D., a friend and colleague of mine from Germany, was making routine measurements of melatonin levels in a small group of men wintering in Antarctica. At one point, an outburst of solar flares (sunspots) caused the local magnetic field to plummet. During the most in tense night of the magnetic storm, three out of seven men had a threefold changes in their melatonin levels, suggesting that we humans may also be vulnerable to fluctuations in the geomagnetic field.

Biometeorologists, who study the effects of the weather and meteorological events such as geomagnetic fields on living organisms, have found a number of statistical links between sudden changes in the earth’s magnetic fields and human health and behavior. Births and deaths, epileptic seizures, homicides, admissions to mental hospitals, and heart attacks–the rates of all have been correlated with fluctuations in geomagnetic activity. A study published in Nature in 1979 revealed that geomagnetic activity (for example, intense solar storms) is correlated with the number of people suffering heart attacks. A study published in The British Journal of Psychiatry in 1994 reports that two weeks after an intense geomagnetic storm, as many as 36 percent more male manic depressives may be admitted to mental hospitals, which the authors suggested could be due to complex interactions between the pineal gland and magnetic fields.

Do Artificial Energy Fields Affect Production of Melatonin?

As disconcerting as it may be that our pineal glands respond to geomagnetic fields, it may prove far more significant that they respond to man-made energy fields. Although the evidence is preliminary, magnetic fields from ordinary household wiring and appliances may lower melatonin levels in humans.”

Excerpted from Melatonin: Your Body’s Natural Wonder Drug, Chapter 14, pages 170-173.

Melatonin–No Known Adverse Side Effects

Melatonin has none of the negative side effects associated with traditional sleep medications. To begin with, it does not significantly disrupt the sleep architecture. In 1974 a group of researchers concluded: “Melatonin-induced sleep, behaviorally as well as by its polygraphic pattern, strikingly resembles natural sleep.” Subsequent studies have supported this finding.

Nor does nature’s sleeping pill interfere with a person’s memory or performance the next day. In an afternoon sleep study conducted at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, a group of young men were assigned randomly to receive either a 1-, 10-, or 40-milligram dose of melatonin. The men took their pills and then two hours later were encouraged to take a nap. Four hours later, all of the men who had taken the 40-milligram dose were still sound asleep and had to be awakened. Shortly after awakening, the men were given tests of their performance memory, and fatigue. According to one of the investigators, Rod Hughes, Ph.D., “Test results suggested that melatonin had no carry-over fatigue and no negative effects on memory or performance.”

Another reason that melatonin is such a superlative sleep aid is that it does not lose its effectiveness over time. Melatonin may become a more effective sleep aid with chronic use. In an Israeli study, researchers gave 2-milligram doses of melatonin to elderly volunteers for two months. At the end of the treatment period, the volunteers fell asleep even more quickly than they did after one week of treatment.

Amazingly, even fractions of a milligram of melatonin can enhance sleep. Richard Wurtman, M.D., a longtime colleague of mine from MIT, demonstrated this fact in a series of studies that spanned ten years. In a study published in 1995, they gave volunteers either 1-milligram or 0.3-milligram doses of melatonin. Even these minute quantities decreased the amount of time it took volunteers to fall asleep, the smaller dose being just as effective as the larger one.”

Excerpted from Melatonin: Your Body’s Natural Wonder Drug, Chapter 8, pages 100-102.

It had been known since the early 1960s that the thymus is essential for a vigorous immune response. Maestroni reasoned that if a healthy thymus gland requires the presence of melatonin, then melatonin must also be vital to the immune system.

Step by logical step, Maestroni has proven this theory correct. A study he published in 1988 showed the dramatic effect that melatonin can have on the immune system. In this study, Maestroni, Ario Conti, and Walter Pierpaoli injected a group of mice with a sublethal dose of a virus called the encephalomyocarditis virus, or EMCV. As a rule, healthy young rodents will fight off the disease, but mice that have weakened immune systems due to stress or aging will die from it.

After injecting the mice with the virus, Maestroni and co-workers stressed them by confining them for several hours a day in individual tubes perforated with air holes, a procedure called restraint stress. Being confined in the tubes did not harm the mice physically, but it did make them anxious, and anxiety generates stress hormones, which cause a significant decline in the immune response. Then the researchers injected a portion of the mice with melatonin to see if it enhanced their survival.

The mice were observed for the next thirty days. A high percentage of the ones that had not been treated with melatonin died within the first week of the experiment. Meanwhile, most of the melatonin-treated mice managed to fight off the virus even though they had been subjected to the same amount of stress! At the end of the study, 82 percent of the melatonin-treated mice had survived, compared with only 6 percent of those not given the hormone–a striking difference in mortality.

Excerpted from Melatonin: Your Body’s Natural Wonder Drug, Chapter 4, pages 38-39.

At UTHSC, my postdoctoral fellows and I found that melatonin may help prevent cancer by serving as DNA’s personal bodyguard. We made this discovery by injecting rats with safrole, a toxic substance known to cause cancer by unleashing large amounts of free radicals. We injected half of these rats with melatonin as well. Twenty-four hours later, we examined their liver cells for DNA damage. The animals that had been given safrole alone had sustained significant damage to their DNA; if the experiment had continued, many of them would have developed liver cancer. Careful measurements revealed that the DNA of the melatonin-treated rats had sustained only 1 percent as much damage.

I was astounded by these results. Most scientific studies produce barely significant results. Scientists long for those rare studies that provide dramatic evidence–what we call a robust effect. Well, this was a robust effect if we had ever seen one. In fact, my initial thought was that something must have gone wrong in the experiment, and I suggested that we do it again. We got the same results the next time, and the next. As the significance of the study began to sink in, I was awestruck by the apparent potency of melatonin. We had given the animals 750 times more of the toxin than melatonin, yet the hormone had offered near total protection.

Free radicals damage surrounding molecules in a nanosecond. Unless an antioxidant is in the immediate vicinity, they cannot be prevented from doing so. Thus an antioxidant must offer “on-site” protection. But most antioxidants cannot do this. For example, vitamin C is water soluble, which limits it to fluid environments su9ch as the cytosol, the watery interior of the cell. Cell membranes are fatty molecules; taking vitamin C to protect them would be like trying to put out a fire in the attic when the fire extinguisher is locked in the garage. Melatonin is both fat and water soluble–a rare occurence in nature–making it the only known antioxidant that can protect all parts of the cell. Furthermore, because melatonin can navigate all the barriers in the body with ease, including the blood-brain barrier and the placental barrier (which protects the unborn child), the antioxidant-hormone can protect every cell in the body.

Excerpted from Melatonin: Your Body’s Natural Wonder Drug, Chapter 3, pages 24-34.

Russel J. Reiter, Ph.D. and Jo Robinson

  • Melatonin is non-toxic; there is no known LD50.
  • Has been found in every animal and plant studied to date, with the exact same molecular structure
  • Responsible for the body’s circadian rhythm
  • Declines with age
  • Stimulates immune system; is the most potent antioxidant known