By A. Rahman Ford, PNN Columnist
Melatonin is popularly known as the sleep hormone. Less known is its potential to alleviate chronic pain and inflammation.
Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain. During the day the pineal gland is inactive, but at night it begins to produce melatonin and helps us sleep.
As a supplement, melatonin is widely promoted for its efficacy as a sleep aid. However, its role in reducing inflammation – a major contributor to chronic pain – may be much more important. Many chronic pain conditions are a result of underlying inflammation.
In a recent Nature article, melatonin was called a “master regulator” of inflammation. Several studies have shown that melatonin can regulate activation of the immune system, reducing chronic and acute inflammation.
Research shows that melatonin supplements can modulate inflammation by acting as powerful antioxidants and free radical scavengers. Uncontrolled free radicals in the body can lead to oxidative stress, which can cause inflammation and culminate in diseases that cause chronic pain.
There is a large body of evidence that melatonin is a potent antioxidant, even more potent than vitamins C and E. It’s been successfully used to treat fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome, diseases associated with high levels of oxidative stress.
Melatonin is also a strong antimicrobial, and emerging research shows that some chronic inflammatory conditions may be caused by infections. One study found melatonin effective in treating certain drug-resistant bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Acinetobacter baumannii. Similar results were found when testing ten different pathogens, including Escheria coli and Salmonella typhinurium, with melatonin.
Melatonin and Chronic Pain
A therapeutic role for melatonin in the treatment of painful autoimmune conditions has been theorized. A 2013 study noted that melatonin plays a role in the pathogenesis of conditions such as multiple sclerosis and systemic lupus. In animal models of these diseases, melatonin supplements were found to have protective effects. A 2019 review concurred, concluding that melatonin can serve as a new therapeutic target in treating autoimmune diseases.
A review of the scientific literature on chronic pain syndromes found evidence of melatonin’s efficacy as an analgesic in several conditions including fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome and chronic back pain. Studies also showed melatonin’s effectiveness in treating cluster headaches ad tension headaches.
A small clinical trial of 63 females with fibromyalgia found that melatonin, alone or in combination with the antidepressant amitriptyline, significantly reduced pain when compared to amitriptyline use alone. The authors concluded that the melatonin treatment had a direct effect on the regulation of pain.
There has been some evidence that melatonin supplements can help reduce lower back pain. In a 2015 study, researchers found a significant reduction in pain intensity during movement and at rest in patients with back pain.
Melatonin has also been successful in treating migraines. In an open-labeled clinical trial of 34 patients suffering from migraine, 30 mg of melatonin given 30 minutes before bedtime was found to reduce headache intensity as well as frequency and duration, with significant clinical improvement after one month.
Although the scientific evidence is only slowly emerging, melatonin is a widely-available, inexpensive and safe supplement that may aid you in your fight against chronic pain.
A. Rahman Ford, PhD, is a lawyer and research professional. He is a graduate of Rutgers University and the Howard University School of Law, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the Howard Law Journal.
Rahman lives with chronic inflammation in his digestive tract and is unable to eat solid food.
The information in this column is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.