Last year in this column I wrote about how important it is to supplement Vitamins C, D and zinc for the possible prevention and treatment aspects related to COVID-19. These natural vitamins and mineral supplements have been shown to be helpful and reported widely in news reports and medical sources.
Just last week another natural supplement hit the news as a product that may possibly reduce your chances of becoming infected by the coronavirus.
The supplement is melatonin. It is widely available, inexpensive and has numerous benefits aside from its potential role in avoiding COVID-19.
Melatonin is a hormone that is normally found in our bodies. Its primary role seems to be related to balancing sleep cycles. It has been widely and safely used to treat problems such as insomnia.
Melatonin is produced as a direct response to decreased ambient light exposure. Melatonin in our body results in feeling sleepy. That is why it is thought that supplementing melatonin may be helpful for people facing sleep cycle disturbances.
It is also known that melatonin levels decrease with aging. Decreasing melatonin levels may be linked to the widely increasing use of hand-held devices that emit artificial light, such as tablets and cell phones.
Melatonin is produced in the brain by the tiny pineal gland. On average the pineal gland is only about 1/3 of an inch long. It is somewhat shaped like a pine cone, hence the name.
There are light sensors within the retina (back of your eye) that transmit information through a series of neurological connections to the pineal gland. In response to the decreasing amount of light stimulation, the pineal gland begins to produce increasing levels of melatonin.
In our bodies the natural production of melatonin increases as our exposure to light decreases and tends to be at a peak between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. The effect is to produce a deeper sleep during the hours after midnight.
Melatonin also has an effect on our body’s temperature control. Increased levels of melatonin results in lower body temperature. This effect can even be observed during a woman’s menstrual cycle as the effect of melatonin on body temperature is blocked to a degree by other hormones.
Melatonin has been studied and is thought to be helpful in treating and perhaps delaying the onset of such disorders as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and sundowner syndrome.
Melatonin has also been found to have an impact on other functions of the body including the immune system. It is important to note that although melatonin was first purified in 1958, its role in human physiology was not immediately recognized. Its effect on sleep cycles has been known only since around 1980. Therefore, it should be assumed that the entire realm of effects of melatonin within the human body is not yet known.
With this in mind, it is curious that melatonin has now been mentioned as a possible beneficial agent in preventing COVID-19 infection. How is it that this hormone that has primarily been associated with sleep for the past 40 years is now thought to play a role in infection prevention?
It might be easy to summarily dismiss the reports except that the claims arose from a study carried out by the prestigious Cleveland Clinic and published in a medical journal last week.
The highlight of the study is the statement that melatonin “may be associated with a 28% reduced likelihood of testing positive for COVID-19.” This is exceptional for such a commonplace, inexpensive and safe supplement.
The news is even better for African Americans. For people of African American descent, the benefit was estimated to be 52%. This is particularly promising since African Americans appear to be hit hardest by the coronavirus.
The study evaluated 34 existing commercially available drugs to determine their possible role in preventing or treating COVID-19. After the research was complete, melatonin was among the most beneficial agents tested.
The study authors were quick to point out that these findings are preliminary and do not indicate that people should rush out to begin taking melatonin for the purpose of COVID-19 prevention or treatment. Although promising, more research must be done to confirm the findings.
Another issue concerning the personal choice to supplement melatonin is that the actual content of the consumer products has been found to vary enormously from what is labeled. In a study published in 2017 in Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, researchers found that over 70% of available retail melatonin supplements had less than 10% of the advertised amount of melatonin.
However, in some samples the content of melatonin was up to five times the labeled dosage. For this reason, in our office we order only from a specific laboratory based here in Tennessee.
This study is only a preliminary one and more must be learned before I recommend melatonin for the purpose of COVID-19 prevention or treatment. However, it seems to be a very promising lead.
Dr. Mark Kestner is a licensed chiropractic physician in Murfreesboro. His office is at 1435 NW Broad St. Contact him at mkestner@DrKestner.com.