Melatonin from Certain Foods Provides Natural Way to Help 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.
As most of us age, and especially with higher stress levels, our body’s ability to produce melatonin wanes. This can produce a chronic issue of sleeplessness – which has the potential for producing greater risk of various disorders as we age – as lack of sleep quality has been linked with a myriad of chronic disorders, from chronic fatigue to dementia.
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 (Buscemi et al. 2004) 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
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.
Other research – as reported by Realnatural – has shown that 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.
Other foods that naturally increase melatonin levels include oats, sweet corn, rice, ginger, tomatoes, bananas, mangosteen and barley.
Written by Case Adams, Naturopath
Johns NP, Johns J, Porasuphatana S, Plaimee P, Sae-Teaw M. Dietary intake of melatonin from tropical fruit altered urinary excretion of 6-sulfatoxymelatonin in healthy volunteers. J Agric Food Chem. 2013 Jan 30;61(4):913-9.
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.
Realnatural News. Research Confirms Tart Cherries Help Sleep Quality and Duration. http://www.realnatural.org/research-confirms-tart-cherries-help-sleep-quality/
Adams C. NATURAL SLEEP SOLUTIONS FOR INSOMNIA: The Science of Sleep, Dreaming, and Nature’s Sleep Remedies. Logical Books, 2011.