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A Natural Remedy for Acid Reflux: Melatonin

When most people have acid reflux, they typically turn to over-the-counter or prescription antacids. These block the production of irritating stomach acids and stop stomach and chest pain. But they're a poor solution--especially the popular Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs), which include Prilosec, Nexium, and Prevacid. PPIs may relieve your heartburn and other symptoms, but they have side effects you want to avoid.

Some of the side effects from PPIs are merely uncomfortable and annoying, like headaches, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea. Others are more serious, like pneumonia, arthritis, kidney inflammation, osteoporosis, and hip fractures. Don't exchange one health problem for another. (see our Q&A: Medications for Acid Reflux)

I doubt that you've heard about this solution before. That's because the first case study of its kind on this novel remedy was just published recently. It's a single case study, but one that was well researched by my colleague, Melvyn Werbach, MD. You may recognize his name. Dr. Werbach is the author of Nutritional Influences on Illness (Third Line Press, 1993), Case Studies in Natural Medicine (Third Line Press, 2002), and other nutritional textbooks. Everything he writes is backed by scientific studies. This solution to acid reflux is no exception.

This quest for a natural answer to GERD began when Dr. Werbach looked for a non-drug solution to heartburn for one of his long time patients. He knew that PPIs worked, but their side effects were unacceptable. They block the production of stomach acids, which reduced the absorption and utilization of calcium and magnesium. While they may protect you from GERD, PPIs raise your risk for both a broken hip and pneumonia by perhaps 50%.

There are several possible causes for GERD, including a relaxed LES (lower esophageal sphincter) muscle and irritation from stomach acids backing up into the esophagus. The solution Dr. Werbach found helps reduce this painful irritation. It does this by repairing the esophageal lining and protecting the GI mucosa, preventing future irritation.

Your esophagus is a long tube that connects your mouth to your stomach. Food and beverages travel down this tube when you eat or drink. Your LES is the gatekeeper that guards your stomach. It opens and closes to allow food and beverages to move into your stomach and keep traveling down your intestines. But when your LES is too relaxed, stomach contents--including bile and stomach acids can back up and cause irritation and pain.

Begin by eliminating any foods known to trigger GERD. Then repair any irritation and soothe the esophageal lining.

Soothing your painful esophagus

Dr. Werbach found studies that eliminated the need for PPIs. He scoured the scientific literature and found a Brazilian study that compared a formula of several dietary supplements with omeprazole (a PPI) to repair the irritated esophageal lining and eliminate the need for PPIs. All patients taking the dietary supplement had complete relief of their symptoms at the end of 40 days of treatment, while only two-thirds of patients on PPIs experienced this regression. Next, when the researchers gave those who didn't respond to the PPIs this formula for 40 days, their GERD symptoms also disappeared!

Dr. Werbach then tested this natural formula, as well as its individual nutrients, on his GERD patient and found that just one of its substances could control GERD!

You've heard about this nutrient before, but not for this application. In fact, you may have already used it for insomnia or jet lag. If you have, you didn't take enough to stop heartburn. The nutrient Dr. Werbach found that eliminated the need for PPIs, documented in his ease study, is none other than melatonin.

You may know that melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland that helps regulate your sleep cycle. But it does much more. It also plays an important role in supporting the immune system and regulating aging. Few people know that 90% of melatonin is made in the intestines!

This hormone is a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. And many studies show that it prevents damage from gastric ulcers and helps them heal quickly. While it may reduce the secretion of stomach acids, it doesn't interfere with the absorption of important minerals like calcium and magnesium. In fact, melatonin reduces the excretion of calcium and increases low levels of zinc.

The amount of melatonin that reduced GERD in both the Brazilian study and Dr. Werbach's case study was 6 mg per day taken at night. When Dr. Werbach reduced this amount to 3 mg per day, the symptoms returned. The amount of melatonin you need to get similar results could vary. That's why I suggest you discuss this article with your doctor and ask him to help you figure out how much you need.

The safest way to try this therapy

If you presently take a PPI for GERD, don't stop. Even if you're tempted to do so. Instead, add 6 mg of melatonin at night for 40 days--the amount of time used in both of the above-mentioned studies. Then stop taking your PPI under your doctor's direction. If you don't develop symptoms, continue taking melatonin nightly. If the heartburn returns, resume taking your PPI and check with your doctor about how long to take both the PPI and melatonin before trying again to stop the PPI. You may only need to take the PPI for one day, Dr. Werbach found. If you're not taking a PPI, simply try taking the 6 mg of melatonin alone.

How long do you need to take melatonin to eliminate GERD? No one knows. It may be possible to stop taking melatonin after six months or a year. Or it could take longer. Then again, since melatonin protects the lining of the intestines, it may be best to keep taking it--unless a change of diet and lifestyle reduces your irritation and pain.

For now, take it daily. It's inexpensive and readily available. Dr. Werbach's study patient thought she had taken her melatonin every day when, in reality, she didn't take it on one occasion. That night, her pain resumed. Once she started taking the melatonin again, the problem disappeared again.

One final note

Melatonin stimulates the immune system, which is good news for most people. But if you have an autoimmune disease like Lupus, MS, rheumatoid arthritis, etc, don't take melatonin. And since it can affect female hormone levels, don't use it if you're pregnant or nursing.

Some foods that weaken the LES and contribute to GERD include coffee, alcohol, fatty foods, chocolate, and peppermint. Lying down within three hours after eating can also cause acid reflux. Simple lifestyle and dietary changes could alleviate your GERD. Try these first.


By Mortin - Copyright 2009
Last modification 31/12/2009

Source:Konturek, S.J., et al. "Melatonin in gastroprotection against stress-induced acute gastric lesions and in healing of chronic gastric ulcers," J Physiol Pharmacol, November 2006.
Pereira Rde, S. "Regression of gastroesophageal reflux disease symptoms using dietary supplementation with melatonin, vitamins and amino acids: comparison with omeprazole," J Pineal Res, October 2006.
Pierpaoli, W. and W. Regelson. "Pineal control of aging: effect of melatonin and pineal grafting on aging mice," Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, January 1994.
Werbach, Melvyn R, MD, "Melatonin for the treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease", Alternative Therapies, July/Aug 2008.