Dr. David Clark, Director of the Center for Autism Recovery in Dallas, Texas, explains how....
Parents of autistic children are making a massive mistake...giving melatonin to their autistic child.
Melatonin is a hormone that's made be a gland in your brain called the pineal gland. It's typically thought of in the general population as some sort of a "sleep hormone", and it certainly does impact sleep.
But, giving your autistic child melatonin is a disaster.
Here's why.... Melatonin is a hormone---and anytime you give the human body an exogenous hormone (hormone from outside the body) three things will happen:
- The gland that makes that hormone will start to atrophy. Because it doesn't need to make as much hormone anymore.
- You will start to lose the coordination and feedback between that gland and the pituitary and the hypothalamus (the master glands).
- The body will become resistant to that hormonem, requiring larger and larger doeses over time to achieve the same effect.
Those are three great reasons why giving your child melatonin is a mistake. See, Melatonin does not work alone.
Melatonin works hand in hand with another hormone called cortisol. It's the ebb and flow of melatonin and cortisol that allow a person to have normal sleep.
Now, many autistic children have disturbed sleep. Either they don't go to sleep or they wake up 5 or 6 times every night. I understand this. I sympathize.
Your child's having a hard time sleeping, and so you look on the Internet or you look through some book, and you say, "Hey, it says right here melatonin's a good thing to give our kid. Let's try it."
And so, you give it to your child, and it seems to have a good effect. So you think, "Great, now he can get some sleep."
But, you're missing the fact that....
Your child is now dependent forever on melatonin
That's just the one side effect of giving melatonin to your autistic child.
Second thing is, when you give the child melatonin, the body doesn't know what to do with that. I'll explain. See, melatonin has a couple different functions. As I said a minute ago, the first function it has is it has kind of a push and pull relationship with cortisol.
So, for example, cortisol has a rhythm, melatonin has a rhythm. Cortisol is high in the morning and then low at night. Well, melatonin's the exact opposite. Melatonin's low in the morning and high at night.
Many kids have sleep problems but not because of a melatonin problem. Many autistic children have a sleep problem because of a cortisol problem.
Now, the million dollar question--what's causing the cortisol problem?
Some possibilities:. It could be
- A misfiring brain (hippocampus usuall)
- A hidden gut infection. It could be
- A food intolerance.
- An autoimmune condition.
By giving the kid melatonin but not investigating those other factors, you're really doing your child a disservice.
So, there's a normal cortisol-melatonin rhythm. When you give a child melatonin, you're desroying that normal rhythm. Yes, the child may sleep, but you're disturbing the normal rhythm, and that can have some disastrous side effects.
Melatonin is a pretty powerful antioxidant. Many kids that get benefit from melatonin are getting that benefit because they have a lot of inflammation in their body and the melatonin acts as an antioxidant. It calms down that inflammation--not just in their body, but in their brain.
If you give your child melatonin and they have a positive response, this could be why. But the real question is, why does your child have inflammation? Once again, you got to do good detective work and investigate for example, autoimmune conditions, food intolerances of different kinds. You've got to look at gut infections. You have to look at viral infections. Those things have to be considered, otherwise you're just putting a flimsy Band-Aid on it.
Another reason why an autistic child might see to get apparent benefit from melatonin is because melatonin is an immune system stimulator. Melatonin stimulates what we call the TH1 part of the immune system. So, some children that are on the autistic spectrum that are getting benefit from melatonin is because they have an immune system imbalance (and you got lucky).
So, once again, melatonin is simply a Band-Aid in any of those scenarios. What you have to do is find out what's causing this thing. What's causing the cortisol disturbance? What's causing the inflammation? Meltaonin supplementation is just scratching the surface, and it's a huge mistake not to dig deeper.
Let me reiterate that.
Giving your child melatonin is a huge mistake, because even if you look at the label directions, it says you're not supposed to take melatonin for more than a few days at a time.
I've seen kids that have been taking melatonin consistently for a year. They're probably going to have to take melatonin for the rest of their life now.
And the lifelong dependence on melatonin wasn't necessary, especially if someone had just done the investigative work to see if the child had
- an autoimmune condition that was undetected, undiagnosed.
- a food intolerance, and that could be gluten, casein, soy, or something else.
- a hidden gut infection (best test is a PCR DNA test of the stool, not visual inspection)
Those are the things that need to be investigated to get a comprehensive look at the child and find out why are they even getting benefit from melatonin at all?
See, giving your child melatonin is really diagnostic, not therapeutic.
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© 2011 Dr. David Clark
THE PLACE FOR ANSWERS™
Dr. David Clark
Diplomate College of Clinical Nutrition
Board Certified Chiropractic Neurologist
Vestibular Rehab Specialist