Our brain’s melatonin production is one of the keys to a good night’s sleep; and the lack of it, can result in just the opposite. Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland of the brain. It’s best known for its role in the regulation of the sleep/wake cycles. Researchers have also found that low levels of melatonin stimulate the growth of estrogen receptor positive breast cancer cells.
Prior to my breast cancer diagnosis, I was having a lot of trouble sleeping. I would often wake up at 4 am and was unable to get back to sleep. My doctor said it was possibly due to my pre-menopausal condition and offered me a sleep aide. I mistakenly declined and continued to spend many hours lying awake at night.
Once diagnosed, I simply could not sleep at all. I began to research natural sleep aides and discovered that melatonin was an extremely effective one. I also learned there had been studies conducted on melatonin and its ability to enhance the effectiveness of Tamoxifen as an estrogen receptor inhibitor. I reviewed these findings with my nutritionist and oncologist, and asked permission to take a melatonin supplement. Since the results were not universally accepted as protocol in 2009, they advised me to only take three milligrams each night, although the studies suggested up to twenty. Current recommendations as a result of accepted studies now suggest 20 to 50 mg .
Unfortunately, I had just missed the opportunity to enroll in a clinical trial on melatonin and early stage estrogen receptor positive breast cancer at Dana Farber in Boston. Based on all of these studies, melatonin may potentially become an important addition to the future treatment protocol of ER+ breast cancer.
There have been many studies on the effects of melatonin production and its effect on estrogen receptor positive breast cancer. Here are the conclusions of a few of these studies.
- Low levels of melatonin have been associated with breast cancer occurrence and development. Women who work predominantly at night and are exposed to light, which inhibits melatonin production and alters the circadian rhythm, have an increased risk of breast cancer development (Schernhammer et al. 2003).
- Melatonin appears to work as an anti-estrogen on tumor cells. although differently than Tamoxifen. When the two are combined, the result is better than Tamoxifen alone. (Lissoni et`al., 1995.)
- Melatonin demonstrates growth inhibitory effects by inducing differentiation (“normalizing” cancer cells)(Cos et al. 1996) as well directly inhibits breast cancer cell proliferation (Ram et al. 2000) and boosting the production of immune components, including natural killer cells (NK cells) that have an ability to kill metastasized cancer cells.
Of course, you should always check with your doctor as I did before taking any supplements. My choice is to continue to take melatonin each night. I know my cells need their beauty sleep!