He says supplement manufacturers market higher-than-optimal doses of melatonin because MIT holds a patent on the hormone at dosages of up to 1 mg. That patent was issued before the FDA classified melatonin as an unregulated dietary supplement.
"If the FDA were regulating melatonin as a drug, as I believe it should be, then it would be sold in its highest fully effective dose, which is 0.3 mg," Wurtman says. "But that isn't happening."
Wurtman's research suggests that melatonin is both safe and effective for the long-term treatment of insomnia and other sleep problems when taken at this dosage shortly before bedtime. He says this appears to be especially true for elderly people.
Because MIT and Wurtman stand to benefit financially if melatonin is marketed at dosages of 1 mg or less, the neuroscientist says he understands that some people will question his motives.
"People may not trust my work because they know I have this association," he says. "The only response I have is to put it all out there and be as forthcoming as possible."