Melatonin May Improve IBS

It is known that irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) characterized by abdominal pain and frequent stomach upsets manifested as diarrhea or constipation, affects a large population. Its cause and exact therapy is also not known. This study reviewed eight previous clinical studies and trials to analyze the efficacy, utility, and effect of melatonin (an indolamine in the pineal gland) on IBS and gastrointestinal disorders. The results showed that melatonin depletion in the body plays a role in IBS and if melatonin is used for therapy, the patients may benefit.

IBS is a long-term stomach and gastrointestinal disease that affects 3-15% of the western population and 4.2-9.8% of the Asian population. This condition commonly manifests as abdominal cramps, bloating, and discomfort along with diarrhea and constipation, leading to substantial disability and health care costs. So far, the exact cause and therapy of the disease has not been found. Studies have revealed that IBS has both a gastrointestinal as well as other causes, including psychological problems, infections, genes, stress, and intolerance to certain foods. Melatonin is a hormone that is secreted normally in the body. Studies have shown that it may play a role in the pathology of IBS. The studies in which melatonin has been used to treat the IBS condition show varied results. This review attempted to look at the existing evidence to decide whether melatonin could help patients with IBS and other gastrointestinal disorders.

For this study, the researchers searched all published papers from journal databases like Pubmed, Cochrane, Google Scholar, Scopus, and Web of Science. They searched for the key words “irritable bowel syndrome” and “melatonin”. All the papers irrespective of the date of publication up to August 2010 were included. After the data was collected from all the studies, the findings were laid out in tables to understand the actual efficacy of melatonin on the IBS condition. The mechanisms of action of melatonin and its positive effects in the clinical or non-clinical IBS condition were also evaluated from the evidence gathered by the researchers.

Data/Results/Key findings

  • At the end of the review, 8 human clinical trials and 17 animal or laboratory studies were gathered for analysis.
  • The human trials revealed that patients with IBS tend to have deranged or abnormally lower levels of melatonin. When these patients were given melatonin as drugs, they tend to show improvement in terms of reduced abdominal pain and other symptoms also.
  • The animal laboratory studies revealed that melatonin acts by reducing anxiety, inflammation, and oxidative stress. It was also observed that melatonin could regulate the motility of the gut much better and thus improve bowel symptoms in patients with IBS.

Next steps/Shortcomings
The authors agree that there is a paucity of human clinical trials that have used melatonin for treatment of IBS. The clinical trials that are available are also small-scale studies. The authors suggest further large-scale studies that are planned and executed well to understand the effectiveness of melatonin in the treatment of IBS.

“Regarding high amount of health care costs of IBS and its increasing prevalence and also lack of known cure because of unknown etiology and multifactorial pathophysiology, developing new effective and safe drugs for treatment of IBS is an important concern in the world.” This review of earlier evidence of melatonin on IBS shows that it could be used in the management of IBS. Human trials have demonstrated that when melatonin is given to patients suffering from IBS condition, it may aid in the resolution of abdominal pain and cramps as well as other symptoms. Laboratory studies also show that melatonin may possess other properties like functioning against oxidative stress, inflammation, and gut motility disorders. These properties may help melatonin to be used as an effective therapy for IBS.

For More Information:
Implications of Melatonin Therapy in Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Systematic Review
Publication Journal: Current Pharmaceutical Design, 2010
By Shilan Mozaffari; Roja Rahimi
From the Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran

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