Melatonin, a natural hormone produced by the brain’s pineal gland, is widely known for its positive effects—in supplement form—on controlling sleep and wake cycles. But its effects may be even wider. Dr. Paula Witt-Enderby, professor of pharmacology and toxicology, recently published findings of a study that indicate melatonin’s ability to modulate bone markers and menopause quality of life in women.
Through the Melatonin Osteoporosis Prevention Study, Witt-Enderby and Dr. Judith Balk of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine studied 18 peri-menopausal women, 13 of whom took a nightly dose of 3 milligrams of melatonin for six months while the other five took a placebo.
“We wanted to see if we could intervene at that critical time in a woman’s life (peri-menopause) and see if we could help them sleep better and see if there was any efficacy on improving their bone health,” said Witt-Enderby.
The melatonin group showed a trend toward a normalization, where the balance between bone breakdown equals that of bone formation. “For many women transitioning through menopause, the equilibrium between these bone cells is lost and the cells involved in the breakdown of bone begin outpacing those cells involved bone formation. This could lead to bone loss over time,” explained Witt-Enderby. “We think that perhaps the melatonin treatment is re-establishing that equilibrium that gets thrown off course when a woman goes through menopause. That is an important finding.”
In addition, the melatonin group reported a significant improvement in the physical symptoms of menopause compared to the placebo group, which was determined through the Menopause-Specific Quality of Life questionnaire completed by participants before the study began and again when it ended. The melatonin group also, according to daily diaries they kept, moved toward “normalizing” their menstrual cycles, Witt-Enderby said.
Witt-Enderby and Balk, who want to expand the trials to work with approximately 120 women over a two-year period, have applied for a grant from the National Institutes of Health.
Other members of Witt-Enderby’s and Balk’s team for the melatonin study include Dr. Christine O’Neil, professor of pharmacy practice; Dr. Frank D’Amico, professor of statistics; Holly Lassila, assistant professor of pharmacy practice; and doctoral pharmacy student Mary Kotlarczyk. Their findings have been published in the January 2012 issue of the Journal of Pineal Research.
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