Melatonin for Jet Lag and Autoimmune Conditions


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Jet lag can be a major inconvenience for travellers crossing from one time zone to another, and considering how much it can cost to plan the holiday of your dreams, it’s not surprising that many tourists and the like look for solutions to jet lag. One of the most popular and potentially most effective methods of dealing with the condition is through the use of melatonin, a hormone which is key to our body’s natural rhythms and body clock.

Melatonin has yet to be licensed for jet lag treatment in the UK, however its use has still grown in recent years with many users reporting positive effects. Using melatonin is unfortunately contraindicated in certain cases, particularly for anyone suffering from an autoimmune disease. In this article we look at why this is the case, and why anyone with this kind of illness should avoid melatonin.

Autoimmune disease

Our body’s defences are a complex network of different chemical agents and receptors, as well as barriers as simple as our skin, all working together to defend us against the myriad of infectious agents in the world around us. Key to the immune system’s ability to do this is its capacity to distinguish between our own ‘self’ cells and tissues and the ‘non-self’ materials of foreign bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

Unfortunately there are times when our body’s ability to distinguish cells in this manner can become compromised. When this happens, the body can sometimes generate an immune response against our own cells to cause progressive diseases classed as autoimmune disorders.

Autoimmune diseases include conditions like Addison’s Disease and various types of arthritis. These conditions vary in their severity and symptoms depending on which tissues of the body are being attacked.

Autoimmune disease and melatonin

Melatonin has a number of contraindications, including use by people suffering from autoimmune disorders. One of the common effects of autoimmune disease can be inflammation. In usual cases inflammation is actually a very useful bodily response to infection which can isolate a particular site and prevent the spread of pathogens. In autoimmune diseases however, inflammation can cause severe damage and pain. Many of the effects of arthritis, particularly on the joints, are because of unwanted inflammation and its effects.

Our immune systems are also actually subject to the regulation of a range of different hormones like cortisol, testosterone, and melatonin. Melatonin’s interactions with the immune system has been shown to increase inflammation in autoimmune sufferers, potentially worsening their symptoms.

Melatonin can achieve this through one of its many signalling effects. While the hormone’s main responsibility may be in regulating our body’s day-night cycle, it also has a range of other important functions, one of which is signalling the release of a class of chemicals called cytokines. These are responsible for triggering responses like inflammation, and this mechanism is why people suffering from autoimmune conditions are advised against using melatonin.

As melatonin is a prescription drug in the UK, your doctor will probably advise against the use of this hormone to treat jet lag if you suffer from an autoimmune condition. Fortunately there are other steps you can take to address the issue of jet lag, many of which are simple measures like making sure you are fully rested before you travel. Plenty of information on this area will be available on the internet, and your doctor is always an excellent source of advice on the best ways by which to minimise your jet lag and improve your trip.


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