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Is Melatonin Dangerous?

Is Melatonin Dangerous?
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Recent media reports employ familiar scare tactics to convince us that melatonin is unsafe—and they are just as wrong as ever. Action Alert!

The headlines paint a bleak picture. “Thousands of kids are getting sick from downing melatonin pills.” The number of children “overdosing” on melatonin has “skyrocketed” in recent years, according to other headlines. The implication of these articles, and the government report they are based on, is that melatonin—but really supplements in general—are unsafe. Just as Sen. Dick Durbin and his allies are working to pass additional restrictions on supplements, a report that seemingly indicates safety issues with melatonin is issued by the government. It can hardly be a coincidence. But even a cursory glance at the facts shows that melatonin is overwhelmingly safe. It is another example of a coordinated attack on supplements to paint them as dangerous, unregulated products that are hurting children. We cannot let these shameless hit pieces succeed in their goal to regulate supplements out of existence.

The articles are based on a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report claiming that pediatric use of melatonin has increased dramatically over the last ten years, which has caused a similar increase in hospitalizations and poison control center calls concerning melatonin ingestion—even, the report says, two deaths.

The CDC report admits at the outset that the increase in hospitalizations is “primarily because of an increase in unintentional melatonin ingestions.” In fact, 94.3 percent of the melatonin ingestions reported to poison control centers were for unintentional consumption; in other words, children got into a bottle of melatonin without adult supervision and ate enough of it to make their parents concerned enough to call a poison control center. Is that an issue with melatonin safety, or is that an issue with irresponsible adults?

Further, an increase in the number of poison control center calls sounds bad, but according to national data, in 2020 83% of poison exposures reported to U.S. poison centers were nontoxic, minimally toxic, or had at most a minor effect. The CDC report references 27,795 children who received care at a health care facility; of that number, 71.6 percent were discharged, 14.7 percent were hospitalized, and 1 percent required intensive care. That is, almost three quarters of these cases were deemed false alarms.

That two young children died is of course tragic. According to the CDC, “one ingestion involved intentional medication misuse; the reason for the other is unknown.” Again, these cases don’t point to a safety issue with melatonin. Almost anything can be dangerous when consumed in sufficient quantity—even water. The vast majority of these incidents could seemingly be avoided if parents kept supplement bottles out of reach of young children.

We know that melatonin is safe. A 2019 study looking at pediatric melatonin use says that “melatonin is considered safe across a wide range of ages when taken according to manufacturer or medical recommendations.” Additionally, the authors note that “severe adverse effects or lethal outcomes as a direct consequence of its use, even in over dosage, have not been reported.”

Consider that pharmaceutical drugs, even when properly prescribedcause an estimated 1.9 million hospitalizations and 128,000 hospital deaths each year. Deaths outside of hospitals would add considerably to this total if recorded. If public health were truly the CDC’s concern, shouldn’t they be focusing on prescription drugs?

It is reasonable for the CDC to warn parents about keeping melatonin bottles out of reach of children to avoid these adverse events. But the implication that melatonin is in any way unsafe is wrong, plain and simple. For the media to suggest otherwise is irresponsible.

This is reminiscent of an earlier report from the Department of Health claiming that supplements send 23,000 people to emergency room every year. What was largely swept under the carpet when these findings were reported was that 20 percent of these cases were unsupervised children swallowing pills. Further, 40 percent of the cases among those 65 and older were caused by choking. Many other cases were heart palpitations from ingesting too many diet pills, sexual enhancement pills, and energy drinks.

But why let the facts stand in the way of the planned hit piece to make supplements appear like a public health catastrophe?

Unfortunately, alarmist reporting about melatonin may prevent people from using a product that can benefit their health. It helps many people, though not all, with sleep issues. Anti-cancer properties have also been reported, and it is also included in some COVID-19 protocols.

The timing of all of this is deeply suspicious. Sen. Dick Durbin and his allies are working to add new regulatory requirements for supplements. A new report from the CDC that paints a popular supplement as a public health problem can only help them pass these new restrictions. We cannot let this absurd strategy succeed.

Action Alert! Write to Congress and tell them to oppose mandatory product registration for supplements. Please send your message immediately.

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