Many people are becoming more and more aware of the harmful effects of prescription medication. These same concerned citizens are turning to natural alternatives.
As a consequence, the market for nutritional supplements (also known as dietary supplements) and "natural" solutions has exploded. As with any market opportunity, companies are using this new interest to increase sales, which leads to a lot of misleading information, contradictory messages, and unfortunately, misuse of potentially harmful substances
Dietary supplements promise to be safe and natural. They are subject to fewer restrictions, regulations and testing than their more harmful equivalents in the pharmaceutical realm.
On the one hand, this is great and makes remedies accessible to all, giving us the power to treat ourselves with safe and natural products. On the other hand, this leaves us vulnerable to sophisticated marketing, unreliable company ethics, and potentially unregulated or tested products.
We all want to go natural, take responsibility for our own health and have access to tools that allow that. But what happens when a seemingly "natural" remedy is so powerful and aggressive that it has the power to actually harm us?
Let's take melatonin as an example.
Melatonin is the number one supplement recommended for sleep. Type in the words "sleep," "remedy" and "natural," and nine times out of ten, melatonin will be in all your search results for five pages.
But what is melatonin, really?
Melatonin is an endogenous hormone (meaning we make it ourselves). It is made by converting an amino acid called L-tryptophan into serotonin, which is then converted into melatonin by the pineal gland at the base of our brain. It is also produced by many other cells in the human body, such as in the GIT. It is present in many foods, such as bananas, walnuts, and rice.
It’s a reasonable alternative to harmful sleeping meds, and companies are doing their best to make sure you know it.
So what's the problem?
First of all, melatonin does not just impact sleep. It has also been shown to affect the immune system, inflammation levels, and blood pressure. This makes it potentially harmful to a wide range of people with chronic conditions.
Secondly, there is nothing natural about the melatonin you are taking! The melatonin in supplements is 100% synthetic, chemical in composition, and made in a laboratory.
Because of that, it is mainly produced by the same pharma companies that are making prescription medications. So it's actually more of a medication than a supplement.
Third, a powerful medication marketed as a supplement is not subject to the same regulations as medications that are marketed as medications. This leads to potentially harmful and poor quality products.
When comparing over-the-counter melatonin products, medical experts find there is a huge variation in potency, availability and release time. There are even misleading labels that promise this or that and are, in fact, completely inaccurate.
Because of its natural role in the body, and like any hormone, naturally-produced melatonin is extremely valuable to overall health and wellness.
There are melatonin receptors in nearly every cell of the human body. Melatonin functions similarly to other hormones and neurotransmitters. That means, when there is a lot of it in our blood, the body wants to use all of it because it's precious.
The body can make accelerated use of hormones, like melatonin, by increasing the number of available receptors. The typical melatonin user will, unknowingly, trigger this biological function, creating more receptors for melatonin.
That means, when someone stops taking melatonin, he or she will have too many receptors. The body is then not producing enough melatonin to keep all those receptors functioning.
Also, when we give our bodies excessive amounts of a very valuable substance, a positive feedback loop tells the body we have enough, so it does not need to make more of it. In other words, taking melatonin supplements can damage your body's ability to make melatonin naturally.
We can look at it this way: Let's say I'm in the desert, and I'm collecting water. I am working hard to collect every drop of it from dew and rainwater.
Then, one year, a water company sends me a water truck with a year's worth of water. Now I am overwhelmed. Instead of focusing on collecting natural rain, I am building collection tanks, and gardens and planting fruit trees so that I can use all this water.
A month later, this truck leaves. Now, I have all these collecting tanks, gardens and plantations that need a lot more water than I have. Also, I have neglected collecting my own water, so I am actually worse off than when I originally started.
That's how melatonin receptors work. An excess of melatonin tells the body to make less melatonin itself.
Of course, no one is looking into the long-term effects that melatonin abuse has on the body. Why would they? A pharmaceutical product that is sold over the counter as natural medicine is a lucrative business. It works well for big pharma, not so well for the customer.
So let's say we can't sleep (which is probably not even related to our melatonin levels). We can take a synthetic chemical called melatonin, which causes us to be less sensitive to our own hormones, and leads us to make less of it. A melatonin user may, in the short term, get more sleep. But he or she is also likely to be developing a dependency on the substance.
It is true that, as we get older, the pineal gland, which produces our body's natural melatonin, shrinks. But this does not mean we don’t have enough melatonin.
If you have sleep disturbances, there are other methods of addressing the problem. Support your bodies organic natural processes, don’t override them. Temporary relief with long term consequences is not the way to go. Read more about our all-natural CBD and medicinal plants Deep Sleep and Relax Tincture.
Or talk to your doctor. Melatonin supplements are not the answer.