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Asthma patients cautioned about melatonin

People with asthma should consider limiting the use of melatonin as a sleep aid, according to researchers at National Jewish Medical and Research Center. Pulmonologist Rand Sutherland, M.D., M.P.H., and his colleagues report in the September 2003 issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology that higher levels of melatonin were associated with an overnight loss of lung function in asthma patients. Previous studies by the same group have shown that melatonin induces the release of chemicals that promote inflammation, a hallmark symptom of asthma.

"For patients whose asthma worsens at night, we found that higher levels of naturally occurring melatonin are associated with impaired lung function," said Dr. Sutherland. "Those findings, on top of previous ones linking melatonin to inflammation, suggest that all patients with asthma should avoid using melatonin supplements until more is known about their safety."

Melatonin, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, is an important regulator of circadian rhythms in the body, especially sleep. It is released at night, generally beginning in the evening hours before bedtime, peaking in the middle of the night, and ending about the time people awaken. Because of its association with sleep, over-the-counter melatonin has become a popular dietary supplement sold as a treatment for jet lag and insomnia.

However, melatonin has also been shown to enhance inflammation in cell and animal studies of asthma. Airway inflammation is one reason people with asthma have difficulty breathing. A significant portion of asthma patients experience increased symptoms at night. Dr. Sutherland and his colleagues hypothesized that melatonin may play a role in this nighttime worsening of asthma.

The researchers had seven people with nocturnal asthma, 13 with non-nocturnal asthma, and 11 healthy controls establish a regular sleep schedule for seven days. On the eighth night, small blood samples were
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Contact: William Allstetter
allstetterw@njc.org
303-398-1002
National Jewish Medical and Research Center
8-Sep-2003


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