Melatonin for Anxiety

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Anxiety disorders affect about 20 percent of the adult population. These disorders have an adverse effect on daytime performance and nighttime sleep. They also put people at risk for substance abuse. Prescription medications provide a treatment option for anxiety problems, but nutritional supplements may offer a better alternative. Over-the-counter melatonin, for example, reduces anxiety in a variety of settings. People should, however, consult a doctor before taking melatonin as the hormone may cause side effects.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Patients with generalized anxiety disorder overreact to life's daily issues. They experience large amounts of psychological stress to relatively small problems. This excessive worry prevents them from functioning normally. An investigation by Dr. Paul K. Gross and team looked at the impact of ramelteon in generalized anxiety disorder. This drug targets melatonin receptors deep in the brain. Subjects received ramelteon nightly for 10 weeks. Results, published in the Feb. 15, 2009, edition of "Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine," showed that ramelteon decreased anxiety scores and increased sleep measures without causing negative reactions. Yet, the long-term effects of this drug remain unknown and these findings await confirmation.

Age-Related Anxiety

Elders experience more anxiety disorders than previously thought, according to HealthyPlace.com. Such debilitating disorders arise from changes in physical health, mental status and social contact. An experiment by C. Garzon and associates presented in the February 2009 issue of "Aging Clinical and Experimental Research" tested melatonin's ability to treat age-related anxiety. These scientists gave nightly doses of melatonin to older adults with sleep disorders for eight weeks. The data showed that melatonin decreased anxiety relative to placebo. It also reduced depression and enhanced sleep. The patients did not report significant side effects. While suggestive, these results need to be replicated before drawing firm conclusions.

Surgical Anxiety

Hospital anxiety remains a problem for people needing medical procedures. Having a negative mindset prior to an operation can affect its immediate and delayed outcome. Sedative medications can relieve surgical anxiety, but such drugs often cause unwanted reactions. A study by Salah A. Ismail and colleagues, described in the April 2009 edition of "Anesthesia & Analgesia," evaluated melatonin as an alternative option. Cataract patients received either melatonin or placebo 90 minutes before their operation. Subjects given melatonin experienced less anxiety and pain during eye surgery. Scientists, however, need to collect more data before doctors can routinely prescribe melatonin for surgical anxiety.

Animal Model

Research testing animals support the anti-anxiety effects of melatonin as well. A report by S.W. Tian and coworkers offered in the July 2010 issue of "Acta Pharmacologica Sinica" used the elevated plus-maze test. In this protocol, scientists place laboratory animals in a plus-shaped maze. Anxious rodents generally avoid the west and east sides of the maze. They instead prefer moving as little as possible along the north and south axis. Tian and team gave mice melatonin 120 minutes before the test. Relative to placebo, melatonin increased the amount of time spent moving in the west-east axis. It remains unclear, however, if such results directly apply to human behavior.

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