Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common ailment that affects millions of people worldwide, characterized by persistent heartburn, acid reflux, and other uncomfortable digestive symptoms. If you’ve ever experienced GERD, you know just how important finding relief is!
Traditionally managed with dietary changes, lifestyle modifications, and medications such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), GERD can significantly impact your quality of life. But emerging research is shining a light on a novel and surprising treatment option: melatonin, a hormone better known for its role in regulating sleep cycles.
As we delve into the science behind melatonin's gastroprotective effects, we’ll uncover how this hormone could offer a dual benefit for those with GERD: soothing symptoms while enhancing sleep, all with a lower risk profile than traditional GERD medications.
Melatonin: An Evidence-Based GERD Treatment
Melatonin is being studied for its potential use in the treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It is produced in the gastrointestinal tract and has been shown to have a protective effect on the mucosa by inhibiting gastric acid secretion and increasing gastrin release, which helps improve the contractility of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Clinical research indicates that the use of melatonin, either alone or in combination with the proton pump inhibitor (PPI) omeprazole, can lead to significant improvement in GERD symptoms such as heartburn and epigastric pain, as well as increasing the tone of the LES.
One randomized, single-blind clinical trial found that a combination of melatonin with other natural supplements was superior to omeprazole alone in treating GERD. Furthermore, studies suggest that people with GERD tend to have lower melatonin levels compared to healthy controls, and supplementing with melatonin may improve GERD symptoms through various mechanisms, including lowering inflammation, reducing oxidative stress, and protecting the lining of the esophagus.
Given this evidence, melatonin appears to be a promising agent in the management of GERD. However, it is essential to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new treatment, as the research is still emerging, and melatonin supplements may interact with other medications or have contraindications in certain populations.
Melatonin Deficiency and GERD
Melatonin levels have been shown to be lower in GERD patients compared to healthy individuals, suggesting that a melatonin deficiency might contribute to the weakening of barrier mechanisms in the esophagus and duodenum.
Compared to proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), melatonin offers a similar symptomatic relief for GERD without the associated risks of chronic kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, or increased heart attack risk that have been linked to long-term PPI use.
Moreover, melatonin has an inhibitory action on gastric acid secretion and controls the lower esophageal sphincter, which are both critical in managing GERD symptoms.
This suggests that melatonin could serve as a valuable alternative to conventional GERD treatments, especially considering the potential side effects and complications associated with long-term use of PPIs.
The antioxidant properties of melatonin, coupled with its ability to influence major GI tract functions, make it a compelling candidate for further research and clinical use in managing GERD.
How Much Melatonin Should You Take for GERD?
While each individual should receive a personalized plan that takes into account their medical history, research has shown that at doses of about 6 mg of melatonin taken at bedtime, GERD symptoms could be relieved with little to no side effects for most.
Increasing Melatonin Naturally
There are ways to naturally increase your melatonin levels without taking supplements. To increase melatonin production naturally, consider the following strategies:
- Increase Sunlight Exposure: Daytime sunlight exposure helps maintain a healthy circadian rhythm, which can enhance melatonin production at night. Sunlight also stimulates the production of serotonin, a precursor to melatonin.
- Consume Melatonin-Rich Foods: Certain foods, especially nuts like pistachios and almonds, are high in melatonin. Additionally, pistachios have vitamin B6, which is essential for converting tryptophan to melatonin.
- Eat Calcium-Rich Foods: Calcium helps the brain use tryptophan to manufacture melatonin. Foods high in calcium include dairy products, leafy greens, and certain nuts and seeds.
- Reduce Evening Light Exposure: Exposure to light in the evening, especially blue light from screens, can inhibit melatonin production. Reducing screen time, using blackout curtains, and avoiding bright lights can help increase melatonin levels.
- Increase Relaxation and Manage Stress: Activities that promote relaxation, such as meditation, deep breathing, or a warm bath before bed, can help trigger the production of melatonin.
These natural approaches can support better sleep patterns and may have a positive impact on overall health. It's crucial to maintain a regular sleep schedule and create a sleep-friendly environment to enhance these effects. Always consult with a healthcare provider for personalized advice.
Potential Side Effects
When using melatonin for GERD treatment, it is generally safe for short-term use and is not associated with dependency, decreased response after repeated use, or a hangover effect, which are common concerns with many sleep medications. The most common side effects of melatonin include headache, dizziness, nausea, and daytime drowsiness.
Less common side effects might include vivid dreams or nightmares, short-term feelings of depression, irritability, stomach cramps, diarrhea, constipation, decreased appetite, urinary incontinence at night, increased risk of falls, increased risk of seizures, confusion or disorientation, mood swings, and reduced alertness.
It is essential to discuss with a healthcare provider before starting melatonin, especially if you have any health conditions or if you are taking other medications.
To summarize, melatonin has shown promising potential as a treatment for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Melatonin is a hormone that, beyond regulating sleep, plays a role in protecting the gastrointestinal lining and influencing the motility of the GI tract. Research has indicated that melatonin can be safely used in the short term to alleviate GERD symptoms, with recommended doses ranging from 3 mg to 6 mg daily.
Additionally, natural ways to increase melatonin levels include getting more sunlight, consuming melatonin-rich foods such as nuts and calcium-rich foods, and reducing evening exposure to light, especially from screens.
These findings suggest that melatonin could be a beneficial addition to the management of GERD, with a dual role in improving gastrointestinal health and sleep quality.
Lab Tests in This Article
Antunes, C., & Curtis, S. A. (2019). Gastroesophageal reflux disease. National Library of Medicine; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441938/
Bang, C. S., Yang, Y. J., & Baik, G. H. (2019). Melatonin for the treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease; protocol for a systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine, 98(4), e14241. https://doi.org/10.1097/md.0000000000014241
Brzozowska, I., Strzalka, M., Drozdowicz, D., Konturek, S., & Brzozowski, T. (2014). Mechanisms of Esophageal Protection, Gastroprotection and Ulcer Healing by Melatonin. Implications for the Therapeutic use of Melatonin in Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) and Peptic Ulcer Disease. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 20(30), 4807–4815. https://doi.org/10.2174/1381612819666131119110258
Christie, J. (2023, November 8). Why you should incorporate melatonin testing into your practice? Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/testing-melatonin-levels-101
Cleveland Clinic. (2022, May 7). Melatonin: What it is & function. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/23411-melatonin
Kandil, T. S., Mousa, A. A., El-Gendy, A. A., & Abbas, A. M. (2010). The potential therapeutic effect of melatonin in gastro-esophageal reflux disease. BMC Gastroenterology, 10(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-230x-10-7
Mead, M. N. (2008). Benefits of sunlight: A bright spot for human health. Environmental Health Perspectives, 116(4). https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.116-a160
Meng, X., Li, Y., Li, S., Zhou, Y., Gan, R.-Y., Xu, D.-P., & Li, H.-B. (2017). Dietary Sources and Bioactivities of Melatonin. Nutrients, 9(4), 367. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9040367
Pros and cons of melatonin. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/melatonin-side-effects/faq-20057874#:~:text=Melatonin%20is%20generally%20safe%20for
Sweetnich, J. (2023, March 28). Calcium 101: Testing, top foods, & supplements. Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/calcium-101-testing-top-foods-supplements
Torres, J. D. F. de O. (2010). Which is the best choice for gastroesophageal disorders: Melatonin or proton pump inhibitors? World Journal of Gastrointestinal Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 1(5), 102. https://doi.org/10.4292/wjgpt.v1.i5.102