Safety of Melatonin Administered for Jet Lag

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Melatonin has become an extremely popular drug treatment for jet lag, offering travellers a means  by which to effectively prepare their bodies for the transition across time zones. Despite its widespread use, particularly in the UK, there are concerns surrounding melatonin’s use to this end, particularly because the drug has yet to be licensed for its use in the prevention/treatment of jet lag.

In this article we look at the safety of melatonin as a therapy for jet lag.

Safety of melatonin

Melatonin remains unlicensed because of the rigorous requirements in terms of the evidence supporting a drug’s efficacy and safety in place. For a license to be granted, there is a lot of research and paperwork that needs to be done to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the drug is effective in its ability to address jet lag and is safe with clearly established contraindications.

The fact that melatonin is not yet licensed for jet lag here in the UK doesn’t reflect on the safety or efficacy of the drug as such, but is more a consequence of the fact that the necessary research into the drug’s usefulness has yet to be performed to meet the stringent standards of regulatory authorities.

The focus of this article is the safety of melatonin, and the first point to make is that the evidence supporting melatonin’s safety is enough to allow for its use as an off-license medication in the UK. You can get melatonin from your GP through a prescription, which would not be possible unless the safety of the drug was established to a certain level.

The evidence to hand suggests that melatonin is safe when used by people above the age of 18 who are not pregnant, breast feeding, or taking other prescription medication. The studies perform to date suggest that the drug can’t be safely taken under certain circumstances:

  • Growing children: Children under the age of 13 shouldn’t make use of melatonin as it is also an important hormone responsible for the regulation of growth and development in some areas. Taking artificial melatonin can disrupt the normal functioning of the natural compound, leading to developmental issues and the like.
  • Autoimmune patients: People suffering from autoimmune diseases (illnesses in which the body’s own defences mistakenly attack their own cells and tissues) can experience increased and unwanted inflammation  when taking melatonin.
  • Patients taking blood thinning agents: Patients receiving blood thinning medications to treat or reduce the chances of blockages in their blood vessels can’t safely take melatonin as this medication can increase bleeding in conjunction with blood thinners.

There are other circumstances in which taking melatonin may be potentially ill-advised, although in these situations it will come down to your doctor’s discretion as it remains unclear as to whether there is a safety concern in these instances:

  • If you suffer from depression or have a family history of the condition.
  • If you suffer from migraine headaches.
  • If you suffer from an eye condition, particularly those affecting the retina.

Because some of melatonin’s side effects include sleepiness and dizziness, operators of heavy machinery and anyone working in a capacity where a loss of alertness or wakefulness can be detrimental to the health and safety of others are advised against the medication.

Like all medications melatonin carries with it some contraindications, and like all medications this drug can cause some side effects. Fortunately because the medication is only available through doctors here in the UK, you will have an opportunity to talk to your GP about any underlying medical conditions which may make the drug unsafe. Because the drug is not available over the counter, the chances of someone who is not suited to the treatment taking the drug are reduced.

One area in which melatonin’s safety is a concern is in terms of the drug’s long term effects. This is probably a key factor in why the drug has yet to earn its license. There are concerns that the use of melatonin for the treatment of jet lag can cause damage to the retina, an important part of the eye. This will need to be more fully investigated in the years to come, but as the drug is relatively new to widespread usage for the treatment of jet lag, it has been difficult to assess its long term safety.

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