Melatonin is a hormone our body produces that helps regulate sleep. It is produced naturally in the pineal gland at the base of the brain, but it can also be taken in tablets, which people who travel a lot or suffer from mild sleep disorders take to improve their circadian rhythms (which has some scientific backing). Are there melatonin side effects that can help those with heartburn?

Currently, the only use for which melatonin has strong scientific back is jet lag, according to the National Institute of Health.[1] And melatonin products are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration[2] (though the products can be purchased without a prescription). One reason may be because people who have taken melatonin have reported various symptoms, which include sleepiness, headache, a "heavy-head" feeling, stomach discomfort, depression, or feeling hungover.[3]

The good news is that the research for melatonin and heartburn is underway. A study from the NIH that began in 2007 hypothesizes that by decreasing esophageal acid exposure and esophageal acid sensitivity in gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), melatonin can do a better job of helping those with GERD symptoms than PPI and placebo (forms of heartburn treatment).[4] If the authors can substantiated their claim, then those who suffer from heartburn, which is the main symptom of GERD, would seek to benefit.

Heartburn can be a tricky thing to understanding because it has a number of symptoms-burning behind the breastbone, feeling food coming back into the mouth, tasting bitterness in the back of the throat, increased pain when lying down or bending over. More so, treating it can be a tricky proposition. For instance, here, according to the National Heartburn Alliance, are 6 lifestyle actions that can worsen heartburn:

  • Eating fatty foods and acidic foods
  • Eating meals too quickly
  • Drinking caffeinated beverages
  • Drinking alcohols
  • Smoking
  • Doing high-impact exercise[5]

Pinpointing which action worsens your symptoms does not mean that reducing that action will prevent your heartburn; it may just lessen the pain. This is why for relief many people take over-the-counter antacids or visit their doctor to see A) if a stronger form of medication helps or B) if they may in fact have GERD. Once your problem is clearly identified, it can begin to be treated.

Might heartburn one day be treated by melatonin? While it is certainly possible, it's a bit too early to know.