Melatonin in Food and Wine

Does wine contain melatonin? And does this partly explain why so many people can relax with a glass of wine?  It’s plausible that the melatonin content in wine could help regulate the circadian rhythm. Researchers have suggested that that hormone can be found in small quantities in wine.

Italian researchers found melatonin in extracts from different wine grapes, including Nebbiolo, Croatina, Sangiovese, Merlot, Marzemino, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Barbera.  Melatonin appears to form as the grapes ripen. The anti-mold fungicide benzothiadiazole, which wineries spay on their plants to protect the grapes, seems to increase the concentration of melatonin.

It has long been known that grape juice and wine have health benefits. The chemicals in the grapes that provide these benefits include resveratrol, anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins. It now appears possible that melatonin is another phytochemical in grapes that people can benefit from.

Melatonin is present in foods like tomatoes and potatoes at very low levels, and such foods do not form a viable source of dietary melatonin. Consumption of walnuts has been shown to raise melatonin levels in the blood and nuts such as almonds may also have enough melatonin to affect serum levels.  Some Italian researchers have speculated that the heart-healthy "Mediterranean diet" may derive its power partly from melatonin content in plants, although they have no hard proof.  Despite what you might read on some websites about foods rich in melatonin, we could find no evidence that diet is a significant source of melatonin in the body.  The levels naturally occurring in foods, even in nuts, is not high enough that an individual can change his or her melatonin level just from diet.

Melatonin supplements, which are high levels of the hormone, are a different story. They can affect serum melatonin levels and influence sleep patterns.

Melatonin scavenges free radicals in the body and acts as an antioxidant, which is why so many are interested in it for fighting aging.  The chemical activity of melatonin against common bodily oxidants as the peroxynitrite anion, peroxynitrous acid, and hypochlorous acid has been shown in lab conditions.  While lab results do not necessarily mean the same reactions occur in the body, such activity is consistent with observations of melatonin fed to or injected into animals.

Nature published a blurb about a study that suggested melatonin supplements could slow testicular damage caused by a high-fat diet.

The oddly named Journal of Pineal Research has lots of studies on the benefits of melatonin, including its protective properties in nonalcoholic fatter liver disease, how “chronic” melatonin can help mitigate the downsides of obesity, and how experiments where scientists fed high-fructose corn syrup to rats to make them obese, supplemental melatonin helped mitigate metabolic syndrome.

So if melatonin is such a great antioxidant and fights aging (maybe), why don’t the vitamin companies include it in their multi-vitamins? Maybe some do.  Melatonin is not a vitamin, however, and unlike vitamins there is no recommended daily allowance.  And the timing of melatonin ingestion matters, while vitamins are often consumed in the morning.

Functional Foods Enriched With Melatonin – the Controversy

Entrepreneurs have developed products with melatonin in them to take advantage of the hype about melatonin.

The Innovative Beverage Group made a product called Drank which they advertised to help customers relax.  It included Valerian Root, Rose Hips, and Melatonin.  The FDA sent a letter in 2010 saying Drank was "adultered..because it bears or contains melatonin, which is an unapproved food additive".

A number of baked goods incorporate melatonin. Lazy Cakes are “supplement squares” that look like brownies.  The contain chocolate and melatonin. Kush Cakes promotes itself as a "premium relaxation brownie" and lists melatonin as a key active ingredient.

The FDA warned the makers of Lazy Cakes in 2011 that melatonin is not an approved food additive and that the product faced possible seizure from store shelves.  This followed reports of children becoming ill after eating the product.

Although the FDA does not regulate dietary supplements such as melatonin, it does have authority over food and beverage products. The makers of Lazy Cakes, also called Lazy Larry’s brownies, apparently responded by removing the word "cakes" from the name and explicitly promoting the product as a supplement.


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