Melatonin is well-known for being a sleep aid, but this humble hormone isn’t only useful for insomnia. Emerging research suggests melatonin’s antioxidant action is helpful for acid reflux, tinnitus, and pelvic pain caused by endometriosis.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) typically presents with symptoms of heartburn and stomach pain, especially at night and after eating. There are many issues at play, most significantly a loosening of the sphincter that separates the stomach and esophagus after eating, which then allows stomach acid to reflux into the esophagus. The esophagus is not built to withstand acid, and repeated exposure to stomach acid can cause inflammation and damage. There are several lifestyle changes that can do wonders in the treatment of GERD. They include:
- Avoiding triggers (chocolate, mint, spicy foods, large meals).
- Eating modestly portioned meals in a relaxed setting (dinner no later than 3 hours before bed).
- Maintaining a healthy weight, which reduces pressure on the stomach that causes reflux.
If lifestyle changes alone don’t alleviate symptoms, supplements and/or medications are indicated to prevent damage to the esophagus over time. In 2010, Kandil et al compared the effects of melatonin alone, omeprazole alone, and combined melatonin/omeprazole therapy on acid reflux. At a modest dose of 3 mg nightly, melatonin was found to improve reflux symptoms alone and in combination with omeprazole. The benefits were attributed to antioxidant effects that protected the esophagus from damage and tightening of the sphincter that separates the stomach and esophagus1. Given the safety, affordability, and accessibility of melatonin, it’s worth a therapeutic trial.
Tinnitus is ringing in the ears, and when severe, it can disrupt sleep and hearing. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study, researchers gave patients melatonin 3 mg nightly (or placebo) for 1 month and assessed tinnitus severity with audiometric testing and self-rating of symptoms. Melatonin was found to reduce severity of tinnitus over placebo both via audiometric testing and patient’s self-rating of severity. Much like GERD, tinnitus is a multifactorial condition that may be influenced by damage to the inner ear, medication side effects, and female hormones. However, as mentioned above, the safety and affordability of melatonin make it a good candidate for a therapeutic trial to see if it helps.
The antioxidant effects of melatonin also appear to alleviate the chronic pelvic pain of endometriosis. In this condition, endometrial tissue (normally only found inside the uterus) implants at various sites inside the body and causes inflammation. The pelvic pain experienced with endometriosis can be severe, and surgical removal of the abnormally placed tissue can lead to problems of its own (such as adhesions that affect digestion and fertility).
In a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial, Schwertner et al found that melatonin (at a hearty dose of 10 mg nightly) reduced endometriosis pain by about 40% and reduced the use of pain-relieving medications by 80% over 2 months. This nutrient alone will not be enough to manage endometriosis, but when it comes to pain relief, it’s a safer starting point than pharmaceutical analgesics (which may have significant side effects).
Oxidative stress is a normal part of physiology, and antioxidants – such as melatonin and compounds found in fruits and vegetables – are necessary to keep our body’s resilient. Sometimes, oxidative damage overwhelms the body’s defenses, and at these times, targeted antioxidant therapies may be helpful. Supplementing melatonin simply adds to what’s already made by our body, making it a safe option for conditions related to oxidative stress. Current research indicates melatonin helps treat insomnia, GERD, tinnitus, and endometriosis. However, given that oxidative damage can occur in all our cells and tissues, it wouldn’t be surprising if melatonin emerged as a treatment for many more conditions in the future.