The hormone melatonin is well known for its role in regulating circadian rhythms, but a new study suggests it may also lead to greater bone density. So far, the bone building effects have only been demonstrated in elderly rats, but researchers are already looking to a possible osteoporosis prevention role in humans.
According to a study “Melatonin dietary supplement as an anti-aging therapy for age-related bone loss” led by Faleh Tamimi, a professor at McGill’s School of Dentistry in Montreal, found that supplemental doses of the naturally occurring hormone increased bone strength in elderly rats. “As we age, we sleep less well, which means that the osteoclasts are more active,” says Tamimi. “This tends to speed up the process of bone breakdown.”
In the study, twenty 22-month-old male rats were reportedly accommodated at the University of Madrid and given melatonin supplements diluted in their drinking water. After 10 weeks, or approximately six human years, bone density and bone strength tests revealed increased volume and density in the test group and little difference in the control group.
Despite positive results, Tamimi says more testing is necessary to determine whether supplemental doses of the sleep hormone are preventing bone breakdown or reversing it. “Until there is more research as well as clinical trials to determine how exactly the melatonin is working, we can’t recommend that people with osteoporosis go ahead and simply take melatonin supplements,” says Tamimi.