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The surprising link between melatonin and coronavirus

Ah, sleep. That restorative eight hours that you may or may not be getting every night actively combats stress while keeping you healthy, alert, and strengthening your immune system. This is why there are so many gummies, salves, potions and other aids out there containing melatonin. It’s a hormone that humans naturally produce that regulates sleep. Pretty much all of us don’t get enough rest, which is why melatonin is also made artificially and sold over-the-counter as a natural sleep aid. It turns out that the supplement actually might have an unexpected perk: A new study from the Cleveland Clinic asserts that melatonin could help fight coronavirus.

The study, which was published in October in PLOS Biology, details patients who came through the clinic up to June 2020. Of that group, the patients who have previously used melatonin were almost 30% less likely to test positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. This was after accounting for variables such as age, race, smoking history and various diseases.

Led by Cleveland Clinic scientists, the study sought to identify molecular pathways shared by other diseases and COVID-19. The thinking is that drugs that the Food and Drug Administration has already approved to treat these other diseases might act on these shared pathways and therefore also treat COVID-19.

The team found, for instance, that proteins associated with respiratory distress syndrome and sepsis, which are two of the main causes of death in severe COVID-19 patients, were also associated with the proteins that make up SARS-CoV-2. Through drawing such associations, the researchers identified 34 drugs already used to treat other conditions that might also treat COVID-19. Melatonin showed the most promise.

This potential game changer was found in an patient data analyzed Ex-Machina style: via an artificial intelligence platform. Developed by Lerner Research Institute, the robot smarty pants looked through all sorts of information about the patients who came in and out of that clinic, including the drugs they had taken.

Additionally for African-Americans, who often get the short end of the stick when it comes to healthcare, and also contract — and die — from coronavirus at higher rates, have something to celebrate in the healthcare sector for once. We actually were found to possibly benefit more from melatonin than other races, at 52%. Go ahead, melatonin.

Of course, there are caveats, the research on this topic is fairly new. "It is very important to note these findings do not suggest people should start to take melatonin without consulting their physician," said Feixiong Cheng, assistant staff in Cleveland Clinic's Genomic Medicine Institute and lead author on the study. Her comments make sense, given how people ran out to go get hydroxychloroquine when their future former president praised it on national television, and that recklessness actually caused at least one death.

A randomized clinical trial of melatonin in COVID-19 patients would verify whether it’s truly the sleep aid working against the disease, or some other variable. So while this data is exciting, it should be taken with a grain of salt, and not a gulp of over-the-counter melatonin, please.