Melatonin: Natural vs Synthetic
In a world full of information and options, it can be overwhelming to understand anything. We want to take care of our minds and bodies. Regarding what we put in our bodies, should we only look for “natural” products? Or are synthetic supplements with manufactured addatives just as safe and effective?
The best way to approach this is by starting with some definitions.
Defining natural melatonin:
Melatonin itself is a natural neurohormone that’s produced by the pineal gland. Darkness causes the pineal gland to produce melatonin and dump it into our bloodstream, which is why we feel sleepy at night (and why we fall asleep easier in the dark). Melatonin helps to mediate sleep cycles1. The natural melatonin produced in your body is known as “endogenous melatonin.”
Therefore, natural melatonin is simply the hormone produced in our bodies.
Defining Synthetic melatonin:
Melatonin can be synthetically created outside of the body. This is known as “exogenous melatonin,” and is usually created in a lab in pill, liquid, and dissolvable film strips. One study found that 71% of the 30 supplements analyzed in a lab did not actually have the melatonin content advertised on the label2. An additional 26% of of those supplements were found to contain serotonin, a neurohormone known to help with sleeping, eating, digestion, and mood. This isn’t too surprising, however. Looking at the melatonin chemical molecule (N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine), melatonin is actually a compound derived from serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine)3. Serotonin is also a controlled substance prescribed by physicians for individuals with mood disorders4.
Do melatonin supplements contain natural melatonin from animals?
Melatonin supplements can indeed be made from animals or microorganisms, but typically they’re made synthetically. Some caution must be taken with supplements containing natural melatonin from animals due to the risk of viral contaniments 5
Melatonin Supplements Advertised as Natural:
There are synthetic melatonin supplements out there that only consist of “natural ingredients,” but what does that mean? Among the newest variety of manufactured supplements is plant-based melatonin. This means that instead of synthetically manufacturing the melatonin hormone found in animals, natural plant-based supplements use a compound known as phytomelatonin6
These may also be advertised as vegan supplements. While phytomelatonin may be a great alternative and eliminates the risk of animal-based contamination is a key benefit, researchers also note some potential harmful effects of phytochemicals produced by either the vegetable or by pesticides6.
Is One Better Than the Other?
Just like with anything else in life, it depends on the person. While a group of people may celebrate the results of natural or organic melatonin supplements, another group may experience different side effects, such as headaches. Choosing a melatonin supplement that’s right for relies on several factors. Do you have any allergies? What is the right melatonin dose for you? Do you prefer fast-acting methods like dissolvable strips or sublingual drops, or do you need slower acting methods like pills that may potentially last longer (although not always)?
Discuss melatonin supplements with your physician, especially if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. You can learn more about the impacts of melatonin (both natural and synthetic) during pregnancy here.
3. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/abot/2014/815769/4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/ssris/art-20044825
5. https://familydoctor.org/melatonin/#:~:text=Natural%20melatonin%20is%20made%20from,bottle%20should%20list%20the%20type.6. https://www.nutraingredients.com/Article/2018/02/05/Plant-based-melatonin-A-real-alternative-to-synthetic-forms