Sometimes I read things that leave me scratching my head. When I can, I shall take a moment to correct factual inaccuracies in the media with this and future "Fact Finder" blog posts.
A reader recently recommended a number of foods that naturally contain melatonin in order to improve sleep and cure insomnia. The thinking is that eating these foods is a more natural way to improve sleep compared to taking sleeping pills. Unfortunately, the amount of melatonin contained in food is extremely small and is unlikely to affect sleep.
For example, some research suggests that tart cherries contain melatonin. However, after doing some math, it's clear that you would have to eat between 1/3 pound and 2 pounds of cherries to get 2 mg of melatonin (the size of typical over-the-counter melatonin supplements). Eating that many cherries each day may lead to an upset stomach and diarrhea. Certainly lower doses can be effective in circadian rhythm disorders and other sleep problems like jet lag, but the good news ends there. According to the Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements, research suggests that no food consumed will elevate plasma levels of melatonin in humans (perhaps simply because we cannot reasonably eat enough).
It is important that readers seek resources online that base their commentary on facts. Medical and health information, in particular, must have a scientific and rational basis as it can have important consequences. I hope these "Fact Finders" will help guide people in the right direction.