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Week: 514.5 Guest: Leonard Hayflick, M.D. Topic: Melatonin - One Part Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham

NEMA : This is a discussion about the dietary supplement Melatonin with Dr. Leonard Hayflick, author of How and Why We Age.

NEMA : One thing that you touched on in the book was the subject of Melatonin and Melatonin is one of these things that's become very popular I think initially because of its supposed effect on sleep but now it's being called a very strong anti-oxidant that's being credited with a lot of properties it may or may not have and clearly the research, there's a research problem because it's not a patented substance that is worth putting $300 million into. Does Melatonin, in your belief and from what you've seen in the papers, does it work? Does it help sleep and is it in fact an anti-oxidant that could do some of the same things that vitamins like A, C and E could do?

HAYFLICK: Melatonin is yet another example of a repetitive process in this country where for reasons that are rarely clearly understood, hype and publicity makes a particular compound, a group of compounds extraordinarily popular in the public eye and then disappears just as quickly six months or a year later for very good reasons and that is that the hype is just that - hype. Melatonin is just the latest example, I'm sure next year we'll have other examples. The only good that Melatonin has done so far, at least in a significantly measurable amount is the money and profit it has made for the publishers and writers of the books that have exploited the hype. The important point is that we have absolutely no evidence that Melatonin plays any role whatsoever in the aging process in humans certainly, what little evidence we have that there might be some increase in life expectation in rodents where there are a few experiments can be interpreted in other ways. For example, the Melatonin fed to those animals may in fact make their food so distasteful that they reduce their caloric intake and hence increase their life expectation by a very well-known phenomenon called caloric restriction. So that the interpretation of the experiments on which at least one of those books depends is nonsense. As far as the role of Melatonin in helping those with insomnia or in reducing consequences of jet lag, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence for this but it is just that - anecdotal. What is very important to say is that although one can freely purchase Melatonin over the counter, what we don't know is who should not experiment with Melatonin and there could be very serious consequences of working with a material whose clinical manifestations are not clearly understood. There are also recent examples of that problem as well. A few years ago we had this problem with contaminated tryptophan, I believe it was tryptophan. . .

NEMA : Yes it was.

HAYFLICK: . . . in which several hundred people suffered serious medical distress as a result of a contaminated over the counter amino acid.

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