Melatonin from Certain Foods Naturally Help Us Sleep
Studies on melatonin have documented that the body’s own melatonin production helps us fall asleep. Yet research on supplemental melatonin has been disappointing. What many have missed is that certain foods provide natural forms of melatonin, which have been shown to raise melatonin blood levels naturally and significantly aid sleep.
An abundance of research has linked higher melatonin levels with the ability to fall asleep. Yet this research has been done on the body’s own melatonin production. Melatonin production is stimulated by the pineal gland as the sun sets and the lights dim during the later evening. This helps us fall asleep, as melatonin helps slow down cellular metabolism.
Our melatonin production slows with age
As we age, and especially with higher stress levels, our body’s ability to produce melatonin wanes.
This can produce a chronic issue of sleeplessness. Lack of sleep also increases the risk of a number of conditions. These include chronic disorders such as chronic fatigue syndrome and dementia.
Synthetic melatonin disappointing
Yet synthetic melatonin – either produced in the lab or from cow urine – does not produce the same effects as the body’s own (endogenous) melatonin. Some studies have shown that synthetic melatonin can help ones sleep-phase cycles slightly – helping during jet lag or similar situations – when our sleep cycles get messed up.
But as a sleep inducer – synthetic melatonin has been disappointing at best. Some research – such as studies by Dement and Vaughan (1999) – has even found that synthetic melatonin can stunt growth among younger people along with producing a myriad of other side effects such as dizziness and headaches.
Furthermore, melatonin’s effectiveness as a sleep aid has been shown to be questionable. In an extensive review by researchers from the University of Alberta prepared for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 932 studies on melatonin since 1999 were analyzed—with 132 being qualified as offering clear results with good protocols. The study concluded that supplemental melatonin was:
• Not effective for treatment of most primary sleep disorders
• Not effective in treating most secondary sleep disorders
• Offered no evidence of effectiveness for jet lag and shift-worker disorders
The researchers concluded:
“There is no evidence that melatonin is effective in treating secondary sleep disorders or sleep disorders accompanying sleep restriction, such as jet lag and shiftwork disorder.”
Some foods naturally increase melatonin
Yet little attention has been put on the fact that nature provides another means for increasing blood melatonin levels – by eating certain natural foods.
And recently, research from Thailand’s Khon Kaen University has found that the body’s levels of melatonin can be naturally raised through eating of some tropical fruits.
The researchers used a crossover study design with 30 healthy human subjects to see which fruits – tropical fruits selected for their melatonin content – would naturally raise the body’s melatonin levels.
The researchers tested six tropical fruits among the volunteers, giving them a diet heavy in that particular fruit for one week following a one-week washout. During these periods the researchers analyzed the subjects’ urine levels of 6-sulfatoxymelatonin – also referred to as aMT6s.
Higher levels of 6-sulfatoxymelatonin or aMT6s in the urine indicates higher levels of melatonin circulating within the bloodstream.
With each different fruit, the subjects’ aMT6s levels were tested. The 6-sulfatoxymelatonin (aMT6s) levels after eating some fruits – notably pineapples, bananas and oranges – increased significantly. Pineapples increased 6-sulfatoxymelatonin (aMT6s) levels by over two-and-a-half times (266%) while banana increased aMT6s levels by 180% – almost double. Meanwhile, oranges increased aMT6s levels by 47%.
The other fruits also moderately increased melatonin content among the patients.
We discussed the evidence showing cherries increase melatonin levels naturally. Natural melatonin from red tart Montmorency cherries (Prunus cerasus) can increase sleep efficiency and quality. A study from an international group of researchers found that drinking tart cherry juice for seven days increased sleep by an average of 34 minutes a night – by speeding up falling to sleep – and increased sleep efficiency by 5-6%.
And like the study from Thailand, the research found that drinking cherry juice increased 6-sulfatoxymelatonin levels naturally – without the need of exogenous or synthetic melatonin supplements.
Vegetables boost melatonin levels
A 2005 study from Japan’s Gifu University Graduate School of Medicine tested 289 women living in a community center. They tested their urine levels of 6-sulfatoxymelatonin each morning. They combined these results with their respective diets.
The researchers found those women who ate more vegetables in their diet had significantly higher levels of melatonin in their urine. This of course means, they also had higher levels in their bloodstream.
The researchers found those in the highest quarter of vegetable consumption had an average of 16% higher levels of natural melatonin in their bloodstreams.
Other foods that naturally increase melatonin levels include oats, cabbage, radishes, sweet corn, rice, ginger, tomatoes, bananas, mangosteen and barley.
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Howatson G, Bell PG, Tallent J, Middleton B, McHugh MP, Ellis J. Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. Eur J Nutr. 2012 Dec;51(8):909-16.
Nagata C, Nagao Y, Shibuya C, Kashiki Y, Shimizu H. Association of vegetable intake with urinary 6-sulfatoxymelatonin level. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2005 May;14(5):1333-5.
Buscemi N, Vandermeer B, Hooton N, Pandya R, Tjosvold L, Hartling L, Vohra S, Klassen TP, Baker G. Efficacy and safety of exogenous melatonin for secondary sleep disorders and sleep disorders accompanying sleep restriction: meta-analysis. BMJ. 2006 Feb 18;332(7538):385-93. Epub 2006 Feb 10.
Dubbels R, Reiter RJ, Klenke E, Goebel A, Schnakenberg E, Ehlers C, Schiwara HW, Schloot W. Melatonin in edible plants identified by radioimmunoassay and by high performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. J Pineal Res. 1995 Jan;18(1):28-31.
Adams C. NATURAL SLEEP SOLUTIONS FOR INSOMNIA: The Science of Sleep, Dreaming, and Nature’s Sleep Remedies. Logical Books, 2011, 2016.
Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies. “My journey into writing about alternative medicine began about 9:30 one evening after I finished with a patient at the clinic I practiced at over a decade ago. I had just spent the last two hours explaining how diet, sleep and other lifestyle choices create health problems and how changes in these, along with certain herbal medicines and other natural strategies can radically yet safely turn our health around. As I drove home that night, I realized this knowledge should be available to more people. So I began writing about health with a mission to reach those who desperately need this information. The strategies in my books and articles are backed by scientific evidence along with wisdom handed down through traditional medicines for thousands of years.”