Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Is melatonin safe for children?

This article discusses the research that has been done on melatonin and children.

Melatonin hormone should be made easily available according to some sleep experts despite the conflict of interest among researchers as to whether it is safe for inducing sleep in children or not, reports The Sydney Morning Herald.

Melatonin is a natural hormone secreted by the pineal gland of the body. The small pea-sized gland which is located just above the middle of the brain is inactive during the day and gets turned on by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) located in the hypothalamus when it gets dark. It then secretes the melatonin in the blood which is responsible for inducing sleep naturally.
Sleep plays a vital part during the early development of brain in the newborns. The Circadian rhythm or the sleep-wake cycle in the body is regulated by the light and dark and it takes time to develop, resulting in the irregular sleep schedules of newborns. The rhythms begin to develop at about six weeks, and by three to six months most infants have a regular sleep-wake cycle.
However, 30 percent of children aged under three suffer from sleep problems, with the most common causes which are either behavioral or medical, according to a Monash University study.
Pediatric sleep specialist Dr Chris Seton, Woolcock Institute of Medical Research says, melatonin is a better alternative to the antidepressants and blood pressure medication that is commonly used by the parents which cause severe side effects.
But the medical experts do not seem to be readily accepting the claim as some of the research reveals that melatonin could adversely affect development during adolescence. They also have raised concern over the increasing trend of use of the hormone for treating sleep related issues in children.
There are reports which say that children with epilepsy and cerebral palsy were prescribed with melatonin way back since 1991. But it is now believed children with behavioural issues, such as ADHD, are more likely to be given melatonin now.
A senior research fellow at The University of Adelaide, David Kennaway says that the studies done on adults and animals have linked melatonin to a negative impact on reproductive, immune, cardiovascular and metabolic systems. In a research article published in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, he says “It is not registered for use in children anywhere in the world and it has not undergone the formal safety testing expected for a new drug, especially long-term in children.”
But Dr Chris Seton, feels otherwise and says,”There is no evidence that it’s anything but a very safe drug. In the contexts of drugs given to kids, it’s at the top in terms of safety”.
The Sleep Health Foundation has cautiously approved the use of melatonin in children, stating it “appears to be safe and works well in the short term”.
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