Study Says Too Much Melatonin Can Be Dangerous for Children

The CDC’s ominous report from June 2022 shakes every parent’s core, carrying the headline: Study says too much melatonin can be dangerous for children. Disturbingly, the document details a frightening 530% surge in cases of childhood melatonin overdose from 2012 to 2021. What’s even more alarming, a specific 37% increase was noticed between 2019 and 2021, unfortunately coinciding with the height of the pandemic.

More than 4,000 hospitalizations, 300 intensive care unit cases, five cases where infants required ventilation, and two children aged three months and one year died from a suspected melatonin overdose in the past decade, according to reports to Poison Control in the United States.

To parents who are having trouble putting their children to sleep, melatonin may appear like a magic bullet, but the reality is more complex. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) published a report in September 2022 advising parents to get physician clearance before giving their children melatonin. In addition to a rise in overdosing, they are concerned about the supplement because the FDA does not govern it, and the amount of melatonin in each pill varies greatly.

If doctors give their consent, parents must safely keep melatonin out of children’s reach and adhere to the recommended dosing schedule. However, the AASM recommends exploring “change in schedules, habits, or behaviors” as a first option before resorting to medication for poor sleep.

What Functions Does Melatonin Play?

The hormone melatonin is released by the body when it detects darkness. After sunset, our bodies naturally begin to produce melatonin, a hormone that tells us it’s time to rest. However, little is known about this hormone, and more research is needed, so we don’t know for sure what other roles melatonin may have in human health.

People who have difficulties sleeping often use melatonin supplements in the hope that they may help them sleep more soundly without any negative side effects. Many adults take melatonin without incident, and many parents give it to their children with no negative outcomes. But that doesn’t prove melatonin’s complete lack of risk.

There Is Much More to Learn About Melatonin

The CDC investigation highlights how little is known about the medication melatonin. Since our bodies already generate it, we might consider it a harmless, all-natural supplement. However, the truth is not like that at all. Despite this, sales of the widely used sleep aid rose from $285 million in 2016 to an expected $821 million in 2020, making it a very successful medication.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), the FDA oversees melatonin as a dietary supplement. While that’s good to hear, it means that melatonin isn’t subject to the same oversight as prescription or OTC medications. In addition, the melatonin you buy could not even include the ingredients indicated on the label.

According to the NCCHI, one study conducted in 2017 compared the ingredients mentioned on the packaging with the actual ingredients identified in 31 different packages of melatonin purchased from various locations, including grocery stores and pharmacies. Serotonin was found in as much as 26% of the people examined; even low doses can be harmful.

Kids need safe storage spaces.

The CDC study demonstrates that the usage of melatonin has increased dramatically over the past few years and that this rise has been accompanied by an increase in cases of overdose and, potentially, long-term harmful effects in very young children.

Teenagers were found to have a higher prevalence of intentional melatonin overdose. Teens may be experiencing difficulty sleeping because of the epidemic, which may be related to their elevated levels of worry and anxiety. Concerning sleep patterns should be discussed with doctors, and parents should talk to their teens about safe medication use.

The CDC also cited hospitalizations due to unintentional overdoses in children less than 5. The lack of oversight in the packaging of melatonin is speculated as a possible cause. When shopping for melatonin, parents should look for child-resistant containers. Melatonin, despite being marketed as a natural sleep aid, is actually a powerful drug. Like any other medicine, it should be kept in a safe place where children and dogs can’t get to it.

What Symptoms Accompany an Overdose of Melatonin?

Melatonin overdose is a medical emergency that has to be treated right away. When giving your child melatonin, keep an eye out for these side effects.

  • Sweating
  • Restlessness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Agitation or irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Upset stomach

Benjamin U. Nwosu, M.D., chief of endocrinology at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in Queens, New York, argues that the supplement’s or the body’s digestion of it causes excessive serotonin levels, leading to the aforementioned negative effects.

The potential side effects of melatonin are still poorly understood. The body uses melatonin as a precursor to other chemicals like serotonin. We don’t know how the body processes melatonin’s by-products, so even a tiny dosage could have unintended consequences.

Dr. Nwosu argues that better sleep hygiene, rather than a prescription, is the greatest solution to insomnia. The greatest treatment is getting back to basics and establishing a regular bedtime pattern where kids (and parents) get enough sleep at the same time every day.

However, parents should consult their doctor before giving their children melatonin as a supplement if they feel their child actually needs it. Dr. Nwosu provides some helpful suggestions as well. It’s feasible to avoid [melatonin]’s negative effects by taking the minimum effective dose. Dr. Nwosu advises parents to learn about melatonin’s risks, give their kids the smallest effective dose, wean them off the drug as soon as feasible, and create a household routine that promotes restful sleep for everyone.

In Conclusion

Although melatonin is widely used as a sleep aid, there is some debate about whether or not it is safe to take. Before providing melatonin to a child, always check with their doctor. Any drug, including sleep aids, should be stored safely and out of children’s reach. More study of the mechanisms that control melatonin and its functions in the body is warranted.

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