Melatonin Pharmacology

I cover melatonin pharmacology on this episode of the Real Life Pharmacology Podcast.

Melatonin, commonly taken by patients for insomnia, is an endogenous hormone produced by the pineal gland. It is an over-the-counter supplement available in dosage forms such as liquid drops, gummies, and tablets. The pharmacology of melatonin is primarily through the activation of melatonin receptors in the suprachiasmatic nucleus; it is also a derivative of L-tryptophan. The production and secretion of melatonin is stimulated by darkness and is inhibited by light. Melatonin concentrations are also shown to vary with age. Its production primarily begins between months 3-4 post-birth, and it peaks between years 1-3. The production and secretion decrease with age and can play a role in insomnia in adults. The doses of melatonin can vary but is commonly found in 1 mg, 3 mg, 5 mg, and 10 mg. Although it is usually taken in higher doses, doses between 0.1-0.5 mg may be adequate. 

Certain things need to be taken into consideration when a patient is taking melatonin. Some of the things that should be taken into consideration are if it works as it’s expected to or if the patient is already on stimulating medications that can cause insomnia. If the patient is taking other medications like zolpidem, trazodone, or mirtazapine, melatonin may not be needed. Other things that should be taken into consideration are if the patient tolerates melatonin well and if a lower dose of melatonin can be used. Melatonin is commonly well-tolerated, but it can occasionally cause CNS issues at higher doses such as oversedation, cognitive impairment. It can even cause hyperprolactinemia that can cause sexual dysfunction, fertility risk, lactation, and is associated with lower bone mineral density. 

Common adverse drug reactions associated with the pharmacology of melatonin are headache, CNS depression, irritability, and daytime sedation. With long-term use, melatonin can cause suppression of the hypothalamic-pituitary axis. Melatonin is primarily metabolized by CYP1A2, CYP2C9, and CYP2C19. The concentration and efficacy of melatonin can potentially be impacted by medications that induce or inhibit the CYP enzyme system, such as propranolol, calcium-channel blockers, and others. Interactions of melatonin that are not CYP mediated are additive effects when taken with other sedatives, caffeine, and ethanol that can reduce the efficacy of melatonin, or other medications that can increase the risk of adverse drug reactions. 

Melatonin is regulated by the FDA as a dietary supplement, and not as a medication. Toxicology studies are limited.

Show notes provided by Chong Yol G Kim, PharmD Student.

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  1. Information is taken directly from the podcast episode
  2. Light/dark melatonin levels, concentrations with age paragraph 1: 10.1016/s0531-5565(98)00054-0 , podcast
  3. ADRs paragraph 2: Lexicomp, podcast
  4. CYP interactions paragraph 3: Lexicomp
  5. Toxicity paragraph 4: Lexicomp

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