I was standing in line at a major pharmacy recently when a young woman walked up to the counter and asked where the pharmacy kept its melatonin.
“You know,” she said, “it’s a sleep aid.”
I waited to hear the right questions from the pharmacy staff, who really should have corrected the young woman (in a polite way, of course) about her misunderstanding of what melatonin is, and who should also have found out some important information from the customer, beginning with her age.
You might label this scene a typical enactment of what I like to call “trend hopping,” where consumers and even less informed stores follow what is popular in the moment without really knowing the scientific facts and safety features behind the media buzz and headlines.
At Betsy’s Health Foods, we strive to save you from the pitfalls of trend hopping every day. Here are just some of the ways we strive to stay ahead of the next “big” thing:
- We follow our industry magazines, which report on the latest clinical trials, give us the big-picture perspective about nutrients and our industry, and which help us stay on top of the latest regulatory news.
- We get daily email updates from a variety of watchdogs for the natural foods industry, including nutrient suppliers and organizations like the American Botanical Council and the Alliance for Nutritional Health.
- We are proud members of the Natural Products Association, our industry’s trade organization, which works to watchdog our industry and fight for our rights on Capitol Hill.
- We take full advantage of trainings offered by our manufacturers, so that when you have questions about products we carry, we have answers!
- We make visits to the manufacturing facilities of the brands we carry, so we see first-hand the process of testing, viability, cleanliness, etc. that the products on our shelves go through.
So, what did the young woman at the pharmacy need to know before she purchased her melatonin?
- First, she needed to be clear that melatonin is actually a hormone her body produces. And, yes, one of its functions in the body is to promote sleep.
- As we age, our body’s ability to naturally produce melatonin declines. However, if you start taking melatonin before you reach that age, you just might “teach” your body to be dependent on the supplement! In other words, if you take melatonin when you don’t really need it, your body’s response may be to say, “Hey, I don’t need to make as much of this stuff because it is already here.” In other words, you would become dependent on the melatonin supplement because your body would decline its melatonin production before its time.
- Of course, short-term use of the supplement when you are younger (like for a trip overseas where you are going to experience a dramatic time change) shouldn’t have a deleterious effect. But, if you aren’t in your late 30s or older (when melatonin production naturally begins to decline) and experiencing more difficulty with sleep, then you really shouldn’t consider this product unless you have been advised to do so by your healthcare provider.
- There are other factors that can lower melatonin levels before their usual time. This is another area where a visit to the doctor would be a good idea. Recently, for example, doctors have been researching the use of melatonin in children with certain conditions. However, I cannot emphasize enough that you should NOT supplement your child with melatonin unless you are under a doctor’s care! The doctor will consider a variety of factors in order to determine if your child would likely benefit from melatonin use. Melatonin use in children is a really good example of when not to jump on the trend hopping wagon.
- Finally, the young woman may have benefitted from a brief discussion of other factors that affect sleep, such as stress, lack of exercise, caffeine intake, blood sugar levels, and even the use of electronic devices (including e-readers) before going to bed.
Melatonin is just one good example of why it is so important to shop for your supplements where you can get the right answers, often to questions you didn’t even know to ask. We at Betsy’s thank you for supporting our family-owned business as we work together to build a healthier, happier community.
*This article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to treat, cure, prevent or diagnose any disease. Consult your healthcare provider.