Melatonin: Helpful or Harmful? By Elisabeth Deffner Melatonin has become a popular therapy, used to promote sleep or fight jetlag. On the surface, this makes sense: after all, the pineal gland begins producing the hormone as darkness falls, making us feel less alert and ready for sleep. Some people believe melatonin is a logical way to combat insomnia—especially because melatonin levels are often found to be low in people with FM. Some FM treatments may further lower melatonin levels. Prozac, Zoloft, and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) deplete or interfere with the absorption of melatonin, which can worsen sleeping difficulties. Similarly, benzodiazepines(Valium, Librium, Dalmane)—a group of drugs used primarily in tranquilizers and anti-anxiety and sleep-inducing drugs—has been found to reduce the production of natural melatonin in rats. One small, recent study cited in the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology looked into the effect of melatonin on patients with fibromyalgia. Researchers found that melatonin treatment both reduced pain and improved sleep in the study subjects. But don’t rush out to the health food store just yet. The melatonin you’ll find in stores is generally synthetic and is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is available without a doctor’s prescription and considered a dietary supplement. As a result, few studies have been conducted on it’s long term safety or potential drug interactions. Information about potential side effects are not required to be listed on the product packaging__yet according to the National Sleep Foundation, fatigue and depression may worsen, arteries to the heart may constrict(increasing the risk of heart attack), and possible effects on fertility have been reported. Rather than taking synthetic melatonin, experts suggest starting a healthy sleep cycle. By getting a good night’s sleep, naturally occurring melatonin levels increase and that may improve sleep for the following night. Here are some tips: * Avoid bright lights while preparing for sleep (bright light can inhibit production of melatonin and thus interfere with sleep) * Avoid alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and refined or artificial sugar * Give your body sleeping “cues,” like a standard bedtime * Exercise about five hours before that bedtime. Your body temperature will rise as you work out, leading to a corresponding fall five or six hours later, making it easier to sleep. According to the American Council on Science and Health (www.acsh.org), certain populations should not undertake melatonin therapy. These include: * People with autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis. High doses of melatonin may worsen such conditions. * People taking steroid medications. Melatonin may counteract their therapeutic effects. * People taking monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors. Source: NFA newsletter.