Melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland that helps regulate sleep cycles, occurs naturally in some foods. For this reason, it’s sold and regulated in the US as a dietary supplement rather than a drug. And it’s a hugely popular supplement at that: according to the most recent National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), conducted in 2012, 3.1 million US adults took melatonin. The NHIS also found that 419,000 children took melatonin, an astounding increase of 332,000 children since 2007.
But how safe is it? Recently, concerns have been raised that, in adults, chronic melatonin use could throw off the body’s own melatonin production. Of equal or greater concern, is melatonin’s long-term effects in children. According to an article in the New York Times, some experts fear that long-term use of melatonin could be more disruptive to children, as their bodies are still developing reproductive, cardiovascular, immune, and metabolic systems. While there’s currently no good evidence that long-term use has these negative effects, and, in fact, melatonin has been found to be helpful for jet lag and certain sleep disorders, parents should have a healthcare practitioner supervise their children’s melatonin intake. It’s also important to purchase melatonin from reputable brands, as the wide range in quality among some supplements may lead to dosages in the bottle that differ from what’s listed on the label.
Source: New York Times