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How to Use Melatonin to Ease Reflux

Although melatonin is usually sold over the counter as a sleep aid, there is research that indicates it can help ease symptoms of acid reflux.
How to Use Melatonin to Ease Reflux
Cardiac pain. Mature woman holds her heart

Pros & Cons of PPIs:

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) such as esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid), omeprazole (Prilosec) and pantoprazole (Protonix) are commonly prescribed to treat acid reflux. Although such drugs usually ease heartburn and other symptoms quite well, research has revealed a number of downsides, particularly over the long term. PPIs increase the risk of pneumonia, diarrhea due to Clostridium difficile (Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology, July, 2013), bone fractures (Annals of Epidemiology, April, 2014) and nutritional deficiencies. Kidney damage (JAMA Internal Medicine, Feb., 2016) and dementia (JAMA Neurology, April, 2016) are frightening long-term consequences that have recently been revealed. You could read more about these problems here.

It is little wonder that people are looking for alternatives to calm their symptoms. Could they use melatonin?

Might You Use Melatonin for Barrett’s Esophagus?

Q. As I understand it, Prilosec is useful for Barrett’s (and GERD). It helps heal irritation in the esophagus that could lead to cancer. But it seems there is no conclusive evidence that using Prilosec prevents cancer.

Melatonin for the Digestive Tract:

Today I read that melatonin does just as good a job at healing the body. Apparently, it takes about 30 days.

Using Melatonin to Discontinue a PPI:

You can even take it with Prilosec, and that will make it easier to get off the acid suppressor. I plan to gradually reduce my dose of Prilosec by taking melatonin. I’ll use an H2 blocker or an antacid like Tums instead if I have symptoms. This seems to be working for me.

The Research Findings on Melatonin for Digestive Problems:

A. We usually think of melatonin in connection with the brain, especially for sleep. Apparently, that is not its only function in the body.

A pilot study found that melatonin, alone or in combination with omeprazole (Prilosec) “is a promising therapeutic agent for the treatment of GERD. It is an effective line of treatment in relieving epigastric pain and heartburn” (BMC Gastroenterology, online Jan. 18, 2010).  A review of other studies concludes that melatonin supplements can speed ulcer healing (Current Pharmaceutical Design, vol. 20 #30, 2014).

There are a number of other natural approaches to easing heartburn symptoms that may be useful for people who would like to discontinue taking a PPI or would prefer not to start taking such a drug. You can learn more about ginger, persimmon tea and deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) in our Guide to Digestive Disorders.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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