Gastrointestinal reflux disease, or GERD, is a painful disease that can have serious long-term consequences. Frequent episodes of acid reflux can contribute to the development of esophageal cancer and other problems, making treatment an important consideration.
One new treatment that is thought to help GERD symptoms is a hormone called melatonin. This hormone is produced by a gland called the pineal gland, which is located in the brain. Melatonin synthesis by the pineal gland is stimulated by darkness, but is suppressed in the presence of light.
The use of melatonin for GERD has not been explored in great detail, and has not been extensively tested. Even so, there are several indications that using melatonin for GERD treatment might have positive results.
Evidence for the use of Melatonin for GERD Treatment
Melatonin has previously been shown to help protect the mucosal lining of the gastrointestinal system. It is thought that this protection occurs because melatonin is an anti-oxidant, and that this hormone is protective because it helps prevent oxidative damage to the mucosal lining. In fact, melatonin has already been shown to help treat gastric ulcers.
Because this type of damage can be caused by stomach acid, this facet of melatonin alone might explain why melatonin treatment be useful for GERD. It might be that melatonin might help prevent regurgitated stomach acid from harming the esophagus, and also help prevent GERD symptoms causing stomach complications.
In one recent study, published in 2010 in BMC Gastroenterology, the researchers showed that oral melatonin is a promising treatment for GERD, when used alone or in conjunction with another medication called omeprazole. Omeprazole is a type of medication called a proton pump inhibitor, and reduces the production of stomach acid.
This study involved treating groups of people with either melatonin alone, omeprazole alone, a combination of melatonin and omeprazole, or a placebo.
The most important result of this study was that melatonin does indeed help in the treatment of GERD – however, it was also found that melatonin alone was not quite as effective as omeprazole alone.
Despite this, the study did indicate that melatonin is a useful GERD treatment, because a combination of melatonin and omeprazole was a more effective treatment than omeprazole alone.
Among other effects, the combination of melatonin and omeprazole helps reduce acid output, and improve symptoms of epigastric pain and heartburn in people with GERD.
Conclusion: Melatonin for GERD Treatment can Work
It seems likely that melatonin is a useful treatment for GERD, not only thanks to the results of the study reviewed here, but also to prior evidence about the functions and actions of melatonin.
Melatonin alone can help treat gastric ulcers, and in conjunction with omeprazole, can improve symptoms of GERD, and ease the pain this condition causes.
National Institute of Health MedlinePlus: Melatonin
Tharwat S Kandil, Amany A Mousa, Ahmed A El-Gendy, and Amr M Abbas. The potential therapeutic effect of melatonin in gastro-esophageal reflux disease. Print version: BMC Gastroenterology 2010, 10:7.