Could popular sleep aid Melatonin actually help treat the coronavirus?

Melatonin for coronavirus
Photo via Michael Reuter/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Melatonin is known for giving you better, more restful sleep. Recent research suggests that not only can melatonin help you sleep better through those coronavirus stress dreams, it might actually help treat COVID-19.

Cases of COVID-19 are on the rise nationwide, and on Dec. 9, more than 3,000 Americans died. While a successful vaccine is currently underway, experts are looking to repurpose drugs already approved by the Food and Drug Administration to prevent or treat COVID-19. Drug repurposing is more cost-effective and timely than traditional drug development and could be key to finding new treatment methods for COVID-19.

New research from Cleveland Clinic shows that melatonin may help prevent COVID-19. In a study of nearly 27,000 patients in Cleveland Clinic’s COVID-19 registry, melatonin usage reduced the risk of testing positive for coronavirus by 30% after adjusting for age, race, and health history. For some subgroups, the benefit was even larger. The study found that melatonin usage reduced the risk of testing positive for Black participants by 52%.

“Large-scale observational studies and randomized controlled trials are critical to validate the clinical benefit of melatonin for patients with COVID-19, but we are excited about the associations put forth in this study and the opportunity to further explore them,” Feixiong Cheng, the study’s lead author, said.

Researchers looked at electronic health records to identify diseases similar to COVID-19 in genetic makeup, and in turn to identify drugs that treat those diseases. Researchers found autoimmune, pulmonary, and neurological diseases with genes similar to SARS-CoV-2 and 34 drugs used to treat them, including melatonin.

“Recent studies suggest that COVID-19 is a systematic disease impacting multiple cell types, tissues and organs, so knowledge of the complex interplays between the virus and other diseases is key to understanding COVID-19-related complications and identifying repurposable drugs,” Cheng said. “Our study provides a powerful, integrative network medicine strategy to predict disease manifestations associated with COVID-19 and facilitate the search for an effective treatment.”

Researchers found that melatonin prevented coronavirus infections in an intriguing way. A virus needs to attach to a host cell to survive and reproduce. Researchers theorized melatonin effectively prevented coronavirus infections by increasing the host’s tolerance to the virus. This can reduce tissue and organ damage and help the host develop immunity to the virus.

Researchers do not recommend taking melatonin without consulting a doctor first or using it in place of other COVID-19 precautions. According to Cheng, Cleveland Clinic is conducting seven more trials to study the effectiveness of melatonin at preventing coronavirus.

Sources: Cleveland Clinic, WebMD, LiveScience, Healthline

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