Editorials

Melatonin

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.312.7041.1242 (Published 18 May 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:1242
  1. J Arendt
  1. Professor of endocrinology School of Biological Sciences, University of Surrey, Guildford GU2 5XH

    Claims made in the popular media are mostly nonsense

    Melatonin, the hormone of the pineal gland, is currently the subject of much ill informed publicity and speculation in the entertainment media worldwide. Several books on the subject have made grossly exaggerated claims for its value, portraying it as a panacea and as an “anti-aging” treatment.1 2 These claims are distortions of current knowledge of the physiological functions of melatonin and of its therapeutic potential.

    What is known can be summarised briefly. Melatonin is normally made at night and may be considered to act as a signal of darkness to the body. In all life forms so far studied it seems to act as a time signal for the organisation of daily (circadian; sleep-wake) or seasonal rhythms, or both.3 Melatonin seems to play an important part in setting the correct timing of sleep-wake cycles in mammals in the perinatal period and of subsequent pubertal development. When given to humans it has rapid, transient, mild, sleep inducing effects,4 and it lowers alertness, body temperature and performance during the three or four hours after low doses have been given.5 6 Correctly timed, it is …

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