I felt unsettled. I subscribe to this newsletter and have generally found the articles to not only be of high quality, but to present a moderate and objective viewpoint when dealing with complex nutritional issues. If I hadn't researched the scientific studies and treated patients with melatonin, I would not have challenged their conclusion.
In the summer and fall of 1995, more books about melatonin followed mine. At least two of these books hyped that melatonin supplements would reverse the aging process and lead to a better sex life.
You will be exposed to various opinions from researchers, medical institutions, physicians, authors, and organizations regarding melatonin's effectiveness, safety, and potential for treatment of various conditions. As you formulate your decision on whose opinion to follow, please consider the following factors:
Is their opinion backed up by solid research? Do they list references?
Are they making definitive claims for melatonin's benefits for humans based purely on laboratory and rodent studies?
Have they done any clinical surveys or treated patients before formulating their conclusions?
Do not assume that an opinion from a major medical center—or me, or any other physician, researcher, or organization—is gospel. For instance, the Johns Hopkins and Berkeley Wellness Newsletter articles didn't mention a word about the effect of melatonin on dreams, nor of the studies that found life span extension in rodents when given melatonin. This makes me wonder how much clinical experience the authors really had with melatonin and how much time they spent reviewing research articles. Having worked and studied in renowned hospitals, I know from first-hand experience that some of the physicians who write opinions on particular issues don't necessarily have the needed time to fully read hundreds of articles before formulating their conclusions. They have hospital rounds to perform, lectures to present, meetings to preside over, other types of research to conduct, and recommendations to make on various other medicines and medical illnesses. Furthermore, academics are often insulated from the practical side of day-to-day office medicine. Large institutions are also very cautious and conservative about making new recommendations. Being overcautious by not recommending the use of a safe sleep supplement can be a disservice to the public when the alternative sleep medicines themselves are known to have serious, and potentially fatal, side effects. Patients taking pharmaceutical sleep aids have been known to experience psychosis and loss of memory. Seizures have occurred upon withdrawal.
Throughout this book I will discuss the benefits of melatonin, its uncertainties, and its shortcomings. I will try to present an objective viewpoint based on scientific research, my clinical experience, and the results of my surveys.
Is Melatonin Effective?
I have found that 80% of all melatonin users like its sleep-promoting effects and would take it again if needed. About 10% did not feel a significant effect or felt it was too weak for them as a sleep aid, and the rest have not had a good experience with melatonin and did not wish to continue with it.
Is Melatonin Safe?
Whenever researchers want to test the dangers of a substance they give it to laboratory animals such as mice. They give progressively higher and higher doses of the substance until a lethal dose (LD) is reached where 50% of the test animals die. This level is called the LD 50. Back in 1967, at the National Heart Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, Barchas and his colleagues gave mice 800 milligrams (mg) per kilogram (kg) of body weight of melatonin. The mice exhibited no significant ill effects. The researchers needed to give more to find the LD 50, but they could not concentrate the melatonin any further in the amount of liquid that the mice had to drink. The 800 mg/kg is equivalent to giving an average-sized human over 50,000 mg. No other effective sleep inducer is this safe. As we'll discuss later, most people do well with a nightly dose of 3 mg or less.