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But does melatonin actually do anything?

December 16, 2009 |  6:05 pm

Melatonin Melatonin may seem to be one of those benignly helpful substances that warrant little concern. The natural version is made in the brain, plays a role in our sleep cycles and is often taken -- by those who put faith in supplements -- to combat jet lag. But that doesn't mean you'd want your kids to take it.

An Ohio couple suspects that workers at a church day care center gave their infant daughter melatonin to make her sleep. They've sued. And they want others to join in their suit. Police are investigating the allegations. Here's the AP story.

But does this sold-over-the-counter supplement work? And could it make a kid sleepy, much less an adult?

This overview of melatonin and its uses, courtesy of the University of Maryland Medical Center, comes down soundly on the "yes" side.

It analyzes the supplement's potential uses in insomnia (of course) and beyond -- osteoporosis, menopause, depression, benzodiazepine withdrawal, various cancers, ADHD and other conditions. The research for most other conditions is preliminary, to say the least.

But a recent study, described here in a WebMD story, suggests that melatonin can be particularly useful in helping children with autism sleep more soundly.

Even so ...

The University of Maryland site has this to say about pediatric usage: "Although studies in children suggest that doses of 1 - 10 mg melatonin have little to no side effects, there is not enough information to clearly say that doses greater than 0.3 mg per day are safe in children under age 15. In fact, doses between 1 - 5 mg may cause seizures in this age group."

And here's what the even more comprehensive explainer over at Medline Plus has to say: "There is limited study of melatonin supplements in children, and safety is not established. Use of melatonin should be discussed with the child's physician and pharmacist prior to starting."

In other words, don't try this at home just yet -- or at a daycare center.

-- Tami Dennis

Credit: Los Angeles Times

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