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Brandon Peters, M.D.

Fact Finder: Can Eating Foods Rich in Melatonin Cure Insomnia?

By April 8, 2011

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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.

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Comments
June 9, 2011 at 7:26 pm
(1) Jacqueline says:

I remember a few years reading about how a company in Finland was selling something called “night milk”, milk from cows milked in the evening that naturally had more melatonin in it. Didn’t seem to catch on, but an interesting idea! There are many herbal and food remedies that work, without eating your weight in tart cherries every night: http://www.womentowomen.com/adrenalhealth/naturalherbal-sleeping-aids.aspx I prefer chamomile and leaving the curtains open so I can see the sun set — a natural trigger for my body’s own melatonin production.

May 11, 2012 at 5:10 pm
(2) Chris says:

I also read that tart cherries contain good amounts of melatonin. But I changed my mind after I read an article about other food sources for melatonin and there is written that tart cherries are way behind other foods:

Melatonin source Melatonin content (ng/g)
Huang-qin 7,110
St. Johnís wort, flower 4,390
Fever few, green leaf 2,450
Fever few, gold leaf 1,920
St. Johnís wort, leaf 1,750
White mustard seed 189
Black mustard seed 129
Wolf berry seed 103
Fenugreek seed 43
Sunflower seed 29
Fennel seed 28
Alfalfa seed 16
Green cardamom seed 15
Tart cherry fruit (Montmorency) 15

http://www.dietaryfiberfood.com/antioxidants/melatonin-natural-food-sources.php

Comparing St. Johns wort to cherries is like comparing ferrari to fiat..It has a huge amount of melatonin compared to cherries according to that source.

Im very open for suggestions Mr. Peters. It would be great to hear your opinion in that case.

Thank you

August 18, 2012 at 12:13 pm
(3) JAN says:

I heard on a news segment about 2 years ago that St. John’s wort had been proven to contribute greatly to cataracts. It was blitzkreiged by the media for a few weeks, then dropped altogether. True or false?

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