Melatonin and Migraines - Ask a Nutritionist

October 26, 2023

Melatonin is a hormone that is made by our bodies. It's used in many bodily functions including the timing of sleep. But it could also be used to treat migraines. Tune into this week's episode of Ask a Nutritionist with Brandy to learn all about how melatonin can affect migraines.

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Welcome to the “Ask a Nutritionist” podcast, brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness. We are thrilled to have you join us today as we discuss the connection between what you eat and how you feel, and share practical real life solutions for healthier living through balanced nutrition. Now let's get started.

BRANDY: Good morning and welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition's midweek segment called “Ask a Nutritionist”. My name is Brandy Buro and I'm a Registered and Licensed Dietitian with Nutritional Weight and Wellness. On today's show, I'll be answering a question we received from our Dishing Up Nutrition listeners.

So today's question is, “Is there any correlation between melatonin and migraines?” I thought this was a really interesting question, although I'm not completely sure if this person is curious about whether migraines could be triggered from melatonin or if melatonin could support or prevent a migraine or treat a migraine. So I thought it would be fun to address both sides of the question today.

What is melatonin?

So before we get too far into this topic, I just want to give a little background on what melatonin is. I think many of us are familiar with melatonin as a supplement to help with sleep. And it's true that melatonin is found in supplement form, but our bodies actually make their own supply of melatonin.

Melatonin plays a role in sleep

So melatonin is a hormone that is released with increasing darkness. So once the sun starts to come down and it gets a little darker out, that is when your body typically releases the most melatonin. And it does play a role in sleep. It's largely involved in scheduling the timing of sleep. It's kind of like the starting gun for sleep. It triggers the initiation of sleep. So supplementation could be helpful for people that are having a hard time getting to sleep, and I think it could be especially useful for people experiencing jet lag or shift workers. So maybe you're not going to bed at the typical time you're used to or you're not necessarily going to bed when it's dark out. That's when I, those are a couple of scenarios I think melatonin could be helpful for sleep.

Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant

So other than its role in sleep, melatonin is also a very powerful antioxidant and it has been found to have some anti-inflammatory effects. So keeping those roles in mind, let's look into some of the research around this topic. I found that there was actually a lot of conflicting evidence in terms of how melatonin is related to headaches or migraines. So I'm going to start with the good news first.

Melatonin could help prevent migraines

There is emerging evidence that melatonin supplementation could help prevent migraines. And the thought around how this could be working is that melatonin is an anti-inflammatory. So it could be helping clear the toxins from the brain so that in that way it could be helping prevent migraines but also because poor sleep and insomnia is correlated with migraines, there is also the thought that melatonin supplementation could help reduce migraines by improving sleep. So I took a look at a review article that was published in 2022, so it's pretty recent. And this review looked at five really high quality studies that were published within I think the last 10 years.

So they were considering that relationship of melatonin supplementation and whether or not it prevented migraines. So two of the five studies did find that melatonin supplementation decreased the frequency and the intensity of migraines better than a placebo. So better than taking no melatonin at all. There was another review article published in 2019 that found melatonin was associated with the reduction in migraine frequency, duration and intensity, but they could not determine if melatonin supplementation was significantly better than taking a placebo or taking prescription medications meant to treat migraines.

Within this review, there were only seven studies included. So it is kind of difficult to draw a strong conclusion from limited data, but I do think these results are still promising. And within this review, melatonin was found to be more effective than a placebo in two studies and as effective as migraine medications. And I thought that was pretty interesting. So as effective as migraine medications in two studies.

And I think one important thing to point out here was that melatonin was actually found to have much fewer negative side effects compared to the medications. So it was as effective in preventing migraines and also had fewer side effects. And I just want to point out too that the most common negative side effect associated with melatonin was sleepiness. And that makes sense to me because one of the roles melatonin plays is regulating sleep and participants were taking it at night before bed. So they might've just naturally been a little sleepy. So not, not the worst side effect in my opinion.

I think another interesting thing to note about one of the studies was that taking melatonin was actually related to some weight loss while those that were taking the prescription medications actually gained some weight.

So just to kind of summarize the research around taking melatonin and whether or not it can help prevent migraines, a big takeaway was from these studies that supplementation for at least three months with about three milligrams of melatonin was effective in reducing migraines. But there is more research needed to establish how reliable these results are.

Higher doses of melatonin could be related to increased risk of headaches

Now let's take a look at the other side of this question. Could melatonin supplementation cause headaches? And there is research that suggests that taking higher doses of melatonin could be related to increased risk of headaches. It didn't really specify whether it was migraines, but there's definitely a relationship with headaches and a high dose of melatonin in general within the research is considered to be a dose that is about 10 milligrams or more. So I took a look at a, a review article that was published in 2021 that considered the results of 79 studies that were looking at the effects of taking higher doses of melatonin.

And they found that in general, headaches were one of the most common side effects of taking at least 10 milligrams or more of melatonin. However, it's important to note that some people that were taking even the placebo pills where they weren't actually taking any supplement also experienced headaches. So it's kind of hard to tease out some of those results. The same group of researchers also performed like an additional analysis on a subset of those studies and found that the risk of headaches, sleepiness, and dizziness was increased by about 40% when participants took 20 milligrams or more of melatonin compared to those that were not taking the supplement.

So to summarize the results that I was finding about the relationship between taking melatonin and triggering a headache, it does appear that at least higher doses of melatonin could increase your risk of headaches.

So another possible connection between headaches or migraines and taking a melatonin supplement could be taking melatonin at the wrong time. So if you were to take melatonin at the wrong time, say in the middle of the afternoon or maybe right away in the morning, it could potentially disrupt your sleep/wake cycle knowing that it has a role in initiating sleep. And a side effect is sleepiness. It could be something that disrupts your sleep enough or causes poor sleep when you are going to bed at your regular time to the point that it could increase your risk of headaches or migraines. So that's just another thought that I had.

I think when we talk about any kind of supplementation, especially melatonin supplementation, I think all of this evidence is pointing to how important it is to take the correct dose knowing that the higher doses tend to be associated with a higher risk of migraines or headaches, and knowing its potential for disrupting your sleep/wake cycle if you're to take it at the wrong time, how important it is to take that supplement before bed.

What are appropriate dosage recommendations?

So if you're already taking melatonin or you're thinking about trying it, I do recommend taking it right before bed, maybe 30 minutes to an hour before your bedtime, just so it you know there, it improves the odds that it's not going to disrupt your normal sleep/wake cycle, and I recommend taking the dose that's right for you and that might vary person to person. So I suggest starting with a smaller dose, maybe one milligram just to start. In general, for adults, a dose of one to five milligrams is generally considered safe and it's still under that threshold of what's considered a high dose of 10 milligrams.

I'd also use caution if you want to try giving melatonin to your children. So children naturally produce more melatonin than adults, so they may not actually need supplementation or need as much supplementation as adults. Melatonin production gradually declines as we age, and I think it's also important to remember that melatonin release increases when it becomes darker. So exposure to light could suppress melatonin release, especially for kids. It's always a good idea to ask them to turn off their devices before bedtime, I would say like an hour or more before bedtime so their bodies have a chance to release melatonin naturally.

So maybe with kids I would consider melatonin as an as needed supplement, maybe not a daily routine, but if it is something that you think would be helpful for your child, I would suggest one or two milligrams if they are five years or younger or up to three milligrams if they are younger than 12 years old.

Quality matters when choosing a melatonin supplement

One last note about melatonin supplementation if this is something that you are interested in trying, be really careful about the quality of the supplement that you purchase. Pay close attention to how many milligrams are in one unit of that supplement, whether it's a capsule or a drop or a chew or a lozenge. There's so many forms that it can come in, but look at the supplement facts and figure out how many milligrams is in one unit.

And then I would suggest that you find a brand of melatonin that has that GMP certification or the good manufacturing practices certification; a little more insurance that you are buying what you think you're buying, you are purchasing melatonin and you are taking the amount that you think you're getting; because there was a study specifically around melatonin where they sampled 31 different brands of melatonin and found that the concentration of melatonin ranged from 80% less than what was stated on the bottle to over 400% more than what was stated on the bottle.

And those variations were found even within the same batch and the same vendor. So be really careful about getting a high quality supplement, one that's third party tested, one that has that GMP certification just to ensure that you're not accidentally giving yourself a mega dose that could cause some of those unwanted side effects, because the research is suggesting that it is really important to dial in your dose. So buying a high quality supplement can just give you a, a little insurance there.

So thank you so much for listening to Dishing Up Nutrition’s “Ask a Nutritionist”. I hope that this segment helped answer some of your questions about melatonin supplementation and its relationship to headaches and migraines. If you have a question that you would like us to answer, we invite you to join our Dishing Up Nutrition Facebook community by searching Dishing Up Nutrition on Facebook.

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