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Melatonin & IBS

By Leah DiPlacido, Ph.D.

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a chronic condition affecting the colon that causes pain, bloating, gas and cramps in the abdomen. Despite these painful and troublesome symptoms, no injury or disease is evident upon examination of the colon. Treatment of IBS usually involves prescribing medications that reduce the symptoms. Melatonin is one supplement that has been studied for its effectiveness in reducing the symptoms of IBS.

Melatonin Levels

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland, located in the brain. Normally the pineal gland produces 0.3 mg melatonin or less; people with IBS may produce less than normal amounts. In 2010, Dr. Shilan Mozaffari and colleagues reviewed the scientific studies investigating melatonin and its link with IBS symptoms. Dr. Mozaffari and coauthors found that, compared to people without IBS, people with this chronic condition had significantly lower levels of melatonin.

Melatonin as a Treatment

In the same meta-analysis, the researchers looked at whether previous scientific studies had shown a significant reduction in IBS symptoms with melatonin treatment. The studies showed that melatonin significantly reduces IBS-associated abdominal pain and that patients reported an overall improvement of IBS scores, which took into account the number and severity of symptoms. In people with IBS, melatonin reduced anxiety and inflammation and helped restore intestinal motility of stool through the colon.

Dosage

Although there is no specific recommended melatonin dose for the treatment of IBS, the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends taking 1 to 3 mg melatonin about an hour before bedtime for the treatment of insomnia. Additionally, a study led by Dr. W.Z. Lu showed that IBS symptoms improved in 88 percent of people who took 3 mg of melatonin at night for eight weeks. As with any supplement, consult a medical professional before starting a melatonin regimen.

Considerations

Because melatonin helps regulate the body's natural sleep/wake cycle, also called the body's circadian rhythm, one of its side effects is drowsiness. If melatonin makes you very sleepy, the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends taking a smaller dose and/or taking melatonin shortly before bedtime. Taking melatonin at night will prevent the supplement from interfering with your alertness during the day.

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