Your Melatonin Might Be Mislabeled—Here’s What You Need to Know
Those cute little gummies are not candy.
If you have ever struggled with insomnia, it’s likely you have a bottle of melatonin sitting on your nightstand. According to the National Institutes of Health, the number of Americans who use melatonin increased more than fourfold between 1999 and 2018. One major reason for this is that melatonin is known as a natural and safe sleep aid, given that our brains produce the hormone naturally in response to darkness.
However, as with any drug or supplement, taking the right dosage is critical to reap the benefits and reduce the risks of regular usage. And this week, a new study published in the medical journal JAMA has shed some much-needed light on inaccurate dosages of melatonin in popular gummy supplements. Here is what you need to know about the mislabeling of commercial melatonin gummies, including which brands may be affected, what the risks of taking the wrong dosage are and how you can ensure you are taking the correct amount moving forward.
How many melatonin brands are mislabeled?
In the study, published on April 25, 2023, a team of researchers tested the melatonin content of 25 different brands of melatonin gummies. In these products, the melatonin content varied from 1.3 milligrams to 13.1 milligrams per serving. And surprisingly, one of these products contained no melatonin at all, but rather, 31.3 milligrams of CBD. After testing, the researchers determined that the “actual quantity of melatonin ranged from 74% to 347% of the labeled quantity” and 22 out of the 25 products (88%) were inaccurately labeled.
This is not the first time researchers have questioned the accuracy of melatonin product labels. A 2017 Canadian study similarly found that “melatonin content did not meet label within a 10% margin of the label claim in more than 71% of supplements.”
One major reason for this pervasive inaccuracy in advertising is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not vet dietary supplements for safety or efficacy.
What are the risks of taking improper dosages of melatonin?
Consuming too much melatonin can have adverse health consequences for both adults and children. According to Dr. Sara Abbott, a sleep medicine specialist at the Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, in an interview with the New York Times, the higher the dose of melatonin, the more likely the experience of side effects. These side effects can include feelings of grogginess the following morning (much like a hangover) and vivid, possibly upsetting dreams, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Additionally, paying for a higher dose of melatonin is typically a waste of money; according to Philip Gehrman, an associate psychiatry professor at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, three milligrams of melatonin is roughly 1,000 times more than our bodies naturally produce and the excess melatonin will just be excreted out.
How can I pick a safe melatonin supplement?
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To pick a melatonin supplement with an accurate and safe dosage for yourself, follow these three tips.
Speak to a professional
Getting good sleep is a complicated science, so before taking any medication or supplement, you should always speak to your doctor. They can illuminate the proper practices for taking melatonin, as well as suggest other holistic behavioral sleep aids, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques or even products like a weighted blanket.
If your doctor does give you the all-clear to use melatonin, ask them for a brand recommendation, or go speak to your pharmacist to learn which products they trust.
Opt for low doses
When in doubt, start small. According to Dr. Abbott, using a supplement containing one milligram or less of melatonin is all you need as an adult; a higher dose will typically yield diminishing returns.
Check the certification
Finally, ensure that whatever melatonin product you purchase is certified by a third-party organization. One reliable resource is the U.S. Pharmacopeia, which vets different supplements.