Melatonin can do more than regulate our biological clocks. The natural sleep hormone can also slow the development of cancer cells and reduce the side effects of chemotherapy. (Photo: Colourbox)

Melatonin could be an overlooked treatment for cancer

Cancer patients have a greater chance of survival if treated with the sleep hormone melatonin in addition to chemotherapy.

Melatonin has been the focus of sleep research for many years, as the secretion of the hormone is known to be an important part of stable circadian rhythms and a good night’s sleep.

It might also have positive effects on our immune system and even slow the development of cancer cells.

Now, a meta study of melatonin and cancer research shows that the hormone is not only reducing the side effects of chemotherapy but might also be effective at eliminating cancer cells.

Over the course of one year, the chance of survival almost doubled from 28 per cent to 52 per cent, according to the study recently published in the Journal of the Danish Medical Association.

According to the researchers behind the study there is good reason to study the effects of melatonin as part of regular cancer treatments further.

"Very few research groups in the world have looked at this area. It’s rather unfortunate, because it seems that melatonin may be an inexpensive and very effective cancer treatment," says study co-author Mogens Claësson, professor emeritus at the Institute of Immunology and Microbiology at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Professor Thomas Benfield, MD, from the Department of Clinical Medicine at the University of Copenhagen agrees that there is need for more research in this area.

"Although it requires more and larger studies before we can say with certainty that melatonin has a real and positive impact on cancer patients, published research so far has shown positive results, and it is worth looking into. These results are almost too good to be true," said Benfield, who did not participate in the new study.

Pharmaceutical industry lacks interest in research

Melatonin is a natural substance that cannot be patented. This might be one explanation to the low number studies on the substance, suggests Claësson.

"Melatonin is cheap to buy and the earning potential for the pharmaceutical industry is small, if anything at all. Therefore, it’s difficult to find the money to do research even though it might save lives, "said Claësson.

Research on melatonin must be sponsored by someone other than the industry, suggests Benfield.

"It can be financially difficult to get around the industry,” he says. “Independent researchers must take the lead in this area. I hope this article will ignite some debate and reflection.”


Read the original article in Danish on

Translated by: Catherine Jex

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