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10-Year-Long Study Reveals Two Babies Died and Several Children Hospitalized Due to Melatonin Poisoning

10-Year-Long Study Reveals Two Babies Died and Several Children Hospitalized Due to Melatonin Poisoning

The study's lead researcher, Dr. Karima Lelak noted that melatonin may not be as harmless as people believe and that proper storage is crucial.

Melatonin tablets that induce sleep have become bedside staples to address sleep disorders during the stressful periods of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Mayo Clinic, "Melatonin is a hormone in your body that plays a role in sleep. The production and release of melatonin in the brain is connected to time of day, increasing when it's dark and decreasing when it's light."

But melatonin supplements are easily available over-the-counter. Melatonin sales in the United States increased by 150 percent between 2016 and 2020 due to popular demand.



 

 

The growing availability of melatonin at home, particularly in convenient forms such as gummies, has had catastrophic, and in some cases fatal, implications for children. They either consume them accidentally or are given by a caregiver. 

According to a new CDC report, melatonin overdoses in children increased by 530 percent between 2012 and 2021. The greatest rise (38 percent) occurred between 2019 and 2020 when the COVID pandemic began. The report states, "Increasing use of over-the-counter melatonin might place children at risk for potential adverse events." 



 

 

The report recommends that child-resistant packaging should be considered and healthcare experts should warn parents about the potential toxic consequences of melatonin exposure.

The study's lead researcher and a pediatric emergency care physician at the Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, Dr. Karima Lelak noted that melatonin may not be as harmless as people believe and that proper storage is crucial.

She told Buzzfeed News, "Parents should really see melatonin just as any other medication that has the potential to do harm to kids, and it can be even more dangerous because it can look like candy." She added, "If a parent takes their melatonin after reading this paper and puts it in their medicine cabinet, I am humbled because I think that's really a big take-home point: safe storage."



 

 

The 10-year study also showed that melatonin use leads to worse results over time. Over the previous decade, more than 260,000 incidents were reported to poison control centers in the United States, including over 4,000 hospitalizations and almost 300 requiring acute care.

Whereas most hospitalized patients were teens who may have taken too much melatonin on purpose, the highest increase in hospital admissions happened among children under the age of five who accidentally overdosed on melatonin.

Five children required mechanical ventilation and two children—a 3-month-old and a 1-year-old—died at home following melatonin poisoning.



 

 

According to Dr. Shalini Paruthi, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, parents should wait until their kids are at least 3 years old before giving them melatonin because children younger than that have “unformed neurological and endocrine systems.”

This research has led to some important changes in Canada’s health policies involving melatonin, including the banning of certain over-the-counter products. However, the researchers said that such, "drug quality studies and legislation initiatives in the United States are lacking."

If you suspect your child has consumed melatonin, Lelak said you should immediately call poison control, especially if you don’t know how much they ingested. (Poison control can be reached at 1-800-222-1222.)

And store your melatonin where it’s out of reach for a child most importantly, she added.

References:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-melatonin/art-20363071

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/katiecamero/melatonin-overdoses-in-children

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/71/wr/mm7122a1.htm?s_cid=mm7122a1_w

Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images/WLADIMIR BULGAR/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY