Mixing Melatonin and Alcohol - What Are The Risks?
Wondering about the health risks of mixing melatonin and alcohol? This is a good question; it's important to remain conscientious when mixing drugs and supplements that could potentially interact.
The Verdict on Melatonin + Alcohol
Mixing alcohol and melatonin is safe. Melatonin is benign, whereas alcohol can be dangerous when misused. In fact, melatonin may even protect against some of the harmful effects of alcohol. Most people don't realize that melatonin is a potent, endogenous antioxidant. Since alcohol contributes to oxidative stress, some researchers hypothesized that melatonin might have a protective effect against alcohol 1.
Consider these studies:
Melatonin and vitamin C attenuates alcohol-induced oxidative stress in aorta (2009)
Melatonin is reported to exhibit a wide variety of biological effects, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Previous studies show that melatonin has a protective role in different types of liver injury and fibrosis. …These findings suggest that melatonin may represent a novel, protective strategy against alcoholic liver injury by attenuating oxidative stress, inflammatory response and apoptosis.2
Melatonin protects against alcoholic liver injury by attenuating oxidative stress, inflammatory response, and apoptosis (2009)
This second study also suggests that melatonin has a protective effect in models of alcohol-induced liver injury.
So Is It Safe To Take Melatonin With Alcohol?
Absolutely. The only caveat is that melatonin can be sedating in certain circumstances. That's why melatonin taken before surgery could intesity the effect of general anesthesia. So it's possible that melatonin and alcohol would have an additive effect. It is best to take 0.5mg of melatonin and limit yourself to two units of alcohol per night. One unit of alcohol corresponds to one beer, glass of wine, or shot.
Melatonin is naturally produced in your body by the pineal gland. It regulates sleep and wake cycles (circadian rhythm).
Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant that influences neurotransmitters like GABA. It's important to be mindful of drugs that interact with alcohol.
Alcohol has potentially dangerous interactions with many prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Here are a few examples:
- NSAIDs - when combined with alcohol can increase the risk of gastrointestinal events like bleeding3
- Opioids - mixing depressants from different drug classes is potentially life-threatening
- Antidepressants - drugs like Wellbutrin (bupropion) can interact with alcohol
Although alcohol shouldn’t be mixed with the above drugs, alcohol does not interact dangerously with melatonin. Melatonin is an innocuous substance at recommended dosages (.5 mg).
Sedating Effects of Melatonin
Melatonin is very weakly sedating. Melatonin is not a sedative per se but does signal to the body that it’s time to sleep. Melatonin entrains your biological clock to the environment. Light and temperature queues influence melatonin levels throughout the day.
Melatonin has been noted to decrease catecholamines 4. Catecholamines are neurotransmitters like norepinephrine which help the body respond to threatening or challenging situations. Melatonin-induced decreases in circulating catecholamines may be one explanation for melatonin's weak sedative effects.
Melatonin Interaction Resulting in Severe Sedation (2015)
In this study, a patient taking a cocktail of antidepressants became severely sedated when melatonin was added. The authors concluded that “…The adverse event was likely due to a primary pharmacokinetic interaction between melatonin and citalopram.”
Further reading: Melatonin Interaction Resulting in Severe Sedation. - PubMed - NCBI
Melatonin reduces the need for sedation in ICU patients: a randomized controlled trial (2015)
This study was interesting because it showed that melatonin reduced the need for sedation in ICU patients, who are typically sleep deprived. This result is at least suggestive that melatonin has a sedative-like effect.
The use of melatonin as an alternative to sedation in uncooperative children undergoing an MRI examination (2002)
This study design sounds kind of crazy but if you think about it, it actually makes some sense.
The authors sought to address the problem of children who won’t cooperate during an MRI. MRIs require that the patient sit still for a duration of time. Uncooperative children usually require sedation with a general anesthetic to ensure immobility during an MRI. But general anesthesia can have some serious consequences for the developing brain. Thus the authors of this study tested the idea that melatonin might be helpful as a substitute.
Further reading: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12069468
These three studies underscore the fact that melatonin can have sedating properties in certain circumstances. This is relevant to how melatonin interacts with alcohol because alcohol is also sedating. Combining sedatives can have ill health effects. In practice, most physicians will tell you that taking melatonin with alcohol is safe. But you should consult your physician if you're elderly or drink more than 2 units of alcohol per day.
Reiter RJ, Tan DX, Mayo JC, Sainz RM, Leon J, Czarnocki Z. Melatonin as an antioxidant: biochemical mechanisms and pathophysiological implications in humans. Acta Biochim Pol. 2003;50(4):1129-46. ↩
Sönmez MF, Narin F, Balcioğlu E. Melatonin and vitamin C attenuates alcohol-induced oxidative stress in aorta. Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2009;105(6):410-5. ↩
Neutel CI, Appel WC. The effect of alcohol abuse on the risk of NSAID-related gastrointestinal events. Ann Epidemiol. 2000;10(4):246-50. ↩
Arangino S, Cagnacci A, Angiolucci M, et al. Effects of melatonin on vascular reactivity, catecholamine levels, and blood pressure in healthy men. Am J Cardiol. 1999;83(9):1417-9. ↩