Can Melatonin Help Relieve Pain?

By Maylin Rodriguez-Paez, RN

Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. Frequently used in supplement form to ease jet lag and insomnia, melatonin also offers a range of anti-aging benefits that are often overlooked.

One of those benefits, according to mounting research, is pain relief. Who knew?

Pain can be extremely debilitating, and it affects millions of Americans. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons why people visit their doctors.

Pain can also be very expensive. For American society, the combined medical and economic costs of pain amount to roughly half-a-trillion dollars annually.1

That’s why it’s exciting to hear about natural and affordable pain relievers like melatonin. Below we’ll take a look at the research.

Melatonin Increases Your “Feel Good” Chemicals

Scientists aren’t exactly sure how melatonin alleviates pain, but there is some evidence showing melatonin might help your body release endorphins, which are also known as “feel good” chemicals.2

The body’s natural, built-in painkillers, endorphins are released in times of injury and stress. Their job is to help you feel less pain.

You’ve probably heard of the powerful painkiller morphine, right? Well, its chemical structure is deliberately based upon the endorphins that your own body produces.

Melatonin Stops Inflammation — a Major Cause of Pain

Inflammation is the body’s first line of defense against injury. It initiates the healing process, but if it’s not kept in check, it can actually work against you. That’s why doctors prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, for pain relief.

Melatonin is a natural anti-inflammatory. It blocks two key enzymes, 5-lipoxygenase and COX-2, that would normally increase inflammation and lead to pain.3 It also slows the production of interleukin-6 and other powerful pro-inflammatory compounds.4

By the way, there are prescription COX-2 inhibitors. One is called Celebrex®. Yes, it’s pretty good at decreasing inflammation and easing pain, but it also comes with a black box warning from the FDA stating that it could increase your risk of a heart attack.

Melatonin, of course, has no such warning.

Melatonin’s Versatility is Impressive

Different studies have shown that melatonin can be effective in alleviating and preventing pain.

For example, in one study, melatonin was shown to reduce the severity of migraine pain and the number of attacks over an extended period of time.5 This is great news if you suffer from migraines, as a little relief can go a long way toward improving your quality of life.

Less pain has also been reported for fibromyalgia patients. One clinical trial, for instance, had subjects taking 3 mg of melatonin at bedtime for 4 weeks. The results showed a reduction in the severity of pain with few side effects reported.6

Another great example is seen in postsurgical pain. Individuals given melatonin prior to surgery have been found to experience less pain afterwards.7

It’s important to alleviate pain after surgery because it decreases the risk for complications like pneumonia and blood clots. It turns out that melatonin might make a great non-narcotic, addiction-free choice for both doctors and patients.

A Safer Alternative for Pain Relief

The next time you’re in pain you might want to give melatonin a shot and forget about the traditional painkillers. Why mess with “black box warnings” and potentially fatal side effects when safer alternatives might exist?

Not only will you feel better, but who knows? You may even get a better night’s sleep too!

References:

  1. Available at: http://www.painmed.org/patientcenter/facts_on_pain.aspx. Accessed September 4th, 2012.
  2. Yao Xue Xue Bao. 2001 Jan;36(1):5-9.
  3. Life Sci. 2009 Apr 10;84(15-16):489-98.
  4. J Pineal Res. 2012 Apr;52(3):291-5.
  5. Altern Med Rev. 2001 Aug;6(4):383-9.
  6. Clin Rheumatol. 2000;19(1):9-13.
  7. Available at: http://www.anesthesia-analgesia.org/content/108/4/1146.full Accessed September 4th, 2012.

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