Our expert says:
A very good question. Some countries have banned the sale of melatonin pending answers to exactly these questions. The problem is that melatonin has been sold under the mantle of a "food additive", which has allowed the purveyors to market it without the stringent research which would be necessary if it were to register as a "medicine" - which sounds as if someone could be trying to make a profit without doing the background research to answer all these very important questions.
We dont know what dose should be used - various bodies of research suggest perhaps as little as 0.3 mg. The dosage you will get in our pharmacies is 3 mg. Is that bad for you? Dont know.
Since melatonin is a chemical which is produced normally in the brain, and since we know that, generally speaking, if you give external chemicals to the body you may effectively shut down the body's production, could this have long-term detrimental effects on the body? Dont know.
It is highly unlikely that melatonin is only having an effect on sleep. What other side-effects could it be having? Dont know.
In Canada the line of research is to measure the melatonin in a subject, and then only give it to people who have been shown to have low levels. Clearly, if your own levels are normal, you will probably not benefit from it. This seems logical, but the test is not yet available here, and we are still waiting for the outcome of the research to show that this is a fruitful approach.
In the UK there is currently only one product licensed - and that is for older people and not for more than 3 weeks use.
My strongly held feeling - and here I know I am stepping on the toes of people who are making money out of it - is that melatonin should NOT, at this point in our knowledge be used, pending the results of more intensive research, except in situations such as those I have mentioned above. If people want to profit from it, I have no problem with that, but I think it is the responsibility of the manufacturers to spend the money on the necessary research, licence the chemical as a medicine with the Medicines Control Council, and tell us all the answers to all these questions.
Until then, because we just dont know, the only advice I can give is not to use it. At all.
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