Can Melatonin help with reflux symptoms?
Many patients will take medication for reflux, such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), for long periods of time without understanding the risks.
Yet, official advice says PPIs shouldn’t be taken for more than three 14-day treatment courses in one year.
In our blog series on natural remedies, we look at alternatives people often use for relief from their reflux symptoms, such as heartburn and indigestion, and investigate whether there is any scientific evidence supporting the claims.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain that regulates our sleep patterns. Darkness causes the body to produce more melatonin, which signals the body to prepare for sleep.
Light decreases melatonin production and signals the body to prepare for being awake. Natural levels slowly drop with age.
However, melatonin has also been detected in cells of the gastro-intestinal tract. Indeed, according to a 1994 study, the human gastrointestinal tract produces more than 500 times as much melatonin as the pineal gland.
Melatonin supplements – available in tablets, capsules or liquid form – have traditionally been shown to be effective for the treatment of sleep disorders. It is often used for insomnia in children and adults with neurodevelopmental disorders.
But some sufferers of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD/GERD) say they take 3mg of melatonin before bed to help relieve their symptoms, such as heartburn.
What does the research show?
Several studies have found that the hormone influences physiological functions of the digestive tract, including secretion, motility, digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Melatonin also ‘exerts a potent protective activity’ against endogenous (acid, pepsin) and exogenous (alcohol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs [NSAIDs], stress) damaging factors affecting the gastro-intestinal tract.
Indeed, researchers in this 2018 study, also say ‘melatonin has been shown to afford protection against acute oesophageal injury from acid and alkaline reflux. Although they say that to determine whether melatonin supplementation can protect patients with GERD from oesophageal erosions and Barrett’s oesophagus requires further clinical trials.
Meanwhile, a 2019 paper ‘Melatonin for the treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease; protocol for a systematic review and meta-analysis’ provides evidence of melatonin or melatonin receptor agonist treatment for GERD.
And in 2021, researchers even questioned if melatonin could be used in Covid-19 patients with laryngopharyngeal reflux disease.
Other studies have suggested that melatonin ‘reduces the amount of stomach acid secreted’ and can ‘help the lower oesophageal sphincter close properly’ and prevent stomach contents from refluxing back up.
The 2006 paper ‘Nocturnal Secretion of Melatonin in Patients With Upper Digestive Tract Disorders’, identified that in patients with GERD, melatonin concentration was lower than in healthy people. The report also suggested that melatonin can ‘exert beneficial influences on the upper digestive tract’.
It has also been suggested that the hormone protects against GERD by increasing blood flow and anti-inflammatory molecules in the oesophageal mucous, thus preventing significant oesophageal injury.
In ‘The Potential Therapeutic Effect of Melatonin in Gastro-esophageal Reflux Disease’ study, researchers concluded that it could be used in the treatment of GERD either alone or in combination with omeprazole (proton pump inhibitors).
They suggested that the combination therapy of both melatonin and omeprazole is preferable as melatonin accelerates the healing effect of omeprazole and therefore shortens the duration of treatment and minimises its side effects.
Is it safe?
Melatonin is generally well tolerated, although adverse reactions, including tiredness, headaches, dizziness, pharyngitis, back pain and irritability have been reported following its use.
Other rare side effects include restlessness, confusion, increased heart rate, itching and nausea. While high doses can reduce body temperature.
In the UK, all forms of Melatonin are prescription-only medicines and are only available from a pharmacy when they have been prescribed by a registered GP. In the US, it is available over the counter.
In conclusion: further research is needed to confirm that melatonin effectively treats GERD and that it is safe to take long-term. We would always advise you to speak to your doctor before using any natural remedy.
An early and objective diagnosis of reflux, such as Peptest provides, opens the door to lifestyle changes, and future treatment. Peptest can also be used after reflux treatments to assess the success or failure of any treatment. Find out more about Peptest and order your Peptest home testing kit now.
Disclaimer: This is an informational blog and does not constitute diet or lifestyle advice. We always recommend you do your own research on top to ensure it’s right for your specific circumstances. You can always get in touch if you have any questions. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. You should always consult your doctor prior to undertaking any treatment for reflux. This blog content was last updated in 2021.