Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain's pineal gland; it helps regulate sleep-wake cycles. Imbalances in the level of melatonin in the body may be related to headaches like migraines and cluster headaches.
The findings, which come from a team of researchers led by Mario F.P. Peres, MD, PhD, of Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein in Sao Paolo, Brazil, show that melatonin may be used as a preventive therapy for frequent migraine sufferers.
Peres and colleagues studied 34 migraine patients, 29 of whom were women. They reported a history of two to eight migraine attacks per month.
Some participants had migraine with aura, which can include seeing visual phenomena like wavy lines, spots, or sparks.
In the study's first month, the participants didn't take melatonin.
The researchers used that time to monitor the participants' untreated migraine problems. They also gave participants diaries to record their symptoms throughout the study.
During the study's last three months, participants took 3 milligrams of melatonin 30 minutes before bedtime.
The melatonin was intended to prevent migraines, not treat migraines already in progress.
Since this was an "open-label" trial, participants knew they were taking melatonin.
Of the 32 participants completing the study, more than two-thirds said their migraine frequency was reduced by half or better after taking melatonin for three months.
This included eight patients who reported no migraines, seven who reported a 75% drop in migraines, and 10 who said their migraine frequency decreased by 50% to 75%.
Overall, headache intensity was reduced. At the beginning of the study, the women's average migraine intensity was 7 on a scale of 0-10. After three months of treatment with melatonin, the average headache intensity dropped to just over 3.
"Melatonin decreased headache frequency, headache intensity on a 0-to-10 scale, and duration in hours," write the researchers in the journal Neurology.
Some felt effects before the three-month treatment was complete. "Significant clinical improvement was already achieved at one month," write the researchers.
Tempted to try melatonin? Keep in mind that this was a small, short-term study.
The researchers say it's the "first study to assess melatonin efficacy in migraine prevention," and they suggest a controlled study to test the idea further.
Melatonin is widely available over the counter as a dietary supplement, but it is not regulated by the FDA.