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Not for nothing

January 15, 2003 

by Amanda Ross 

Managing Editor Nutrition & Healing 

When melatonin hit the mass media in the 90s, it became an instant health superstar -- it made the cover of Newsweek; it was the subject of books; and it became both the darling of age-defying gurus and the nemesis of the FDA and other mainstream naysayers. Touted as the cure for everything from aging to jet lag, this hormone was certainly set up for a great fall. 

But all that attention wasn't for nothing. While a number of dubious studies were undertaken, several very helpful ones were as well, generating some results I think you should know about. 

While the most popular use of melatonin continues to be for the regulation of sleep patterns, one study showed what might be melatonin's most overlooked benefit: treating cluster headaches. 

Cluster headaches are intense migraine-like headaches that usually last for a few hours at a time, and often recur in predictable patterns -- like every night for several weeks or months at a time. These recurrences are then followed by complete headache-free remissions for long periods of time until the next bout. 

Blood levels of melatonin have been found to be low in people who suffer bouts of cluster headaches, particularly during attacks. In 1996, doctors who noticed this correlation performed a double-blind study where half the participants received 10 mg of melatonin once a day (in the evening) for two weeks, and the other half received a placebo. Headache frequency was significantly reduced in the group that received melatonin, while no significant improvement was experienced by the placebo group. 

Cluster headaches, like migraines, can be extremely painful and can actually interfere with the daily lives of the people who suffer them. Although the safety of long-term, high-dose use of melatonin has not been sufficiently proven, there were no adverse effects reported with the short-term treatment outlined above, so if you have cluster headaches, it's definitely worth talking to your doctor about. 

What is... a circadian rhythm? 

Circadian rhythm is the scientific term for what is also referred to as your biological clock -- the one that tells you when to sleep and when to wake up. It comes from the | Latin words "circa", meaning about, and "dia", meaning day. Your daily cycle is influenced by light and darkness and is regulated by the hormone melatonin, which is produced by a tiny gland in the brain called the pineal gland. 

To your good health, Amanda Ross Managing Editor Nutrition & Healing 

Source: Leone M, et al. "Melatonin versus placebo in the prophylaxis of cluster headache: a double-blind pilot study with parallel groups." Cephalalgia 1996; 16: 494-496. 

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