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Melatonin exhibits anticancer effects

Melatonin, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland, is best known for its effectiveness on sleep and mood. A recent study, however, suggests it may also help treat cancer. The March 1997 issue of Support Care Cancer reported that melatonin, when used in conjunction with conventional anticancer therapies, appeared to inhibit the proliferation of some cancer cells; it even seemed to counteract the grueling effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

In a 1996 Italian study, 30 patients with gliobastoma (a highly malignant type of brain tumor) were randomly selected to receive radiation therapy, either with or without melatonin. After the radiation treatment, the melatonin group continued to take the hormone until the tumor worsened. In the group taking melatonin, the one-year survival rate was a staggering 43 percent, compared to just 6 percent in the group that received no melatonin.

No adverse side effects were linked to the melatonin; in fact, the melatonin group had significantly fewer complications from both the radiation and the corticosteroids that were used to reduce swelling in the brain. Many of the melatonin patients also experienced improved sleep and anxiety relief.

In another study by the same research group that year, 80 patients with assorted metastatic cancers were picked out of a random group to receive chemotherapy, with or without melatonin. The effects of chemotherapy (especially bone marrow suppression and nerve dysfunction, but not hair loss or vomiting) were significantly decreased in the melatonin group. Although these results are heartening, they must be interepreted with caution. The studies were not placebo-controlled, so it is uncertain whether the results were caused by melatonin or a placebo effect. Further studies are still needed for confirmation. It should also be pointed out that the doses of melatonin used in these cancer studies were dramatically higher 20 to 40 milligrams, as compared to the 3 to 5 milligrams taken to help sleeping patterns.

You should consult your physician before implementing melatonin as an anticancer agent in your treatment regimen. Hlth & Nut. Brkthroughs, July 1998

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