No! A few cherries or pistachios are not the same as a melatonin supplement – Symphony Natural Health


By Melanie Henning, PsyD
Reviewed by Deanna Minich, PhD

August 14, 2023

You may have seen several posts on social media about food, particularly pistachios, cherries, and bananas, having high levels of melatonin. We’ve seen a number of posts claiming that you only need to “eat a few pistachios before bed to get the same amount of melatonin as a supplement”.

The truth is – you would need to eat over a thousand pistachios to get just 1 milligram (mg) of melatonin.

Can you get melatonin from food? Yes, you can.

However, the question is how much of these foods you’d need to eat to get the benefits of melatonin and what else you are taking in, such as sugar, calories, and even allergens. Also, with food sources, the amounts of nutrients will vary greatly depending on the variety, growing conditions, harvesting, processing (e.g., roasting or drying the food), the location and seasonality, and even whether it’s produced using conventional farming methods or organically without pesticides.  

As if that weren’t enough to calculate, the methods used to analyze the level of melatonin in the food can give very different results. Another point to consider is that thousands of other compounds in foods, especially those related to fibers of different types and even polyphenols, could change whether a person can digest and absorb melatonin.

The bottom line is that research investigating melatonin from food and integration into the body has been inconclusive at best. It’s difficult to assess digestion, absorption, metabolism, and excretion from foods with any accuracy unless a stable-isotope or tracer compound is used (1). After all, melatonin metabolites in the urine may be from the body’s own production of melatonin. It is well known that the production of melatonin in the gut is 400 times that of the pineal gland. Therefore, is the melatonin in the urine an indication of more in the body, or simply reflecting the synthesis and metabolism of melatonin in the gut in response to taking in foods, or that the melatonin in those foods is not being absorbed? To make this issue even more complex, other studies might suggest that gut microbiome interactions with food and with melatonin could also play a role (2).

All those factors are a lot to think about, so if you are aiming for a standardized amount of melatonin, it is simply not practical to use food as a reliable source of melatonin. However, that doesn’t suggest that those same foods might not have a health benefit and may even help sleep and related aspects, like immune health. Below we delve deeper into various foods that contain melatonin, as well as how they can benefit your health.

At Symphony Natural Health, we are big believers in the power of plants. What’s more, you will regularly hear our team of integrative and functional medical practitioners (which includes MDs, PhDs, Naturopathic Doctors, and Certified Nutritionists) quote Hippocrates’ famous line, “Let food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be food.” 

However, as scientists, we feel it is imperative to get our facts and numbers correct. Because, when it comes to our health, doses, serving sizes, and amounts really do matter.

For example, if you find out that you have iron-deficiency anemia, is adding steak to your diet enough? And does it need to be grass-fed, organic, a specific type or part of the cow? What if you don’t eat steak? How do you stack up enough foods to give you the iron you need in a bioavailable form? Do you need to take vitamin C with the iron-containing food to help with iron uptake? The list of variables goes on. It might be more efficient to do a few things to maximize iron levels in the body, like taking an iron supplement while, at the same time, adding iron-rich foods to the diet. 

In a similar way, scientists have also done number-crunching activities for resveratrol, which has widespread acclaim for longevity and age-related diseases (3). It has been shown to be near impossible to achieve the therapeutic level of 1 gram of resveratrol per day from foods and beverages. If we look at red wine with its popularized levels of resveratrol, it would take 502-2762 liters, or greater than 2000 glasses of wine to over 11,000 glasses of wine (depending on the wine, the varietal of grapes, etc.) to achieve that 1 gram on a daily basis.

Our point is that the amount we consume matters, and while we certainly believe that “food is thy medicine”, sometimes, based on where we are in our health journey, we may need to ensure we are getting higher concentrations, doses, or amounts of a particular nutrient in the short-term to realign our health or get it back on track faster than we could with food alone, or maybe it is a compound like melatonin that doesn’t exist in high enough levels in standard food or there are so many variables with certain types of food that we either can’t rely upon or it is impractical to rely on just that food source.

While it is true that several foods naturally contain trace amounts of melatonin, science shows us that we need to consume enormous quantities of these foods to get the natural physiological dose of melatonin that an average middle-aged adult naturally produces from the pineal gland each day, which is 0.3 mg (4).

For example, the amounts of melatonin found in pistachios, bananas, and cherries are all extremely low, with a large range, and measured in nanograms. To put nanograms in perspective, most supplements have about 1 mg of melatonin; however, there are 1,000 micrograms in 1 milligram, and there are 1,000 nanograms in a microgram. Meaning 1 nanogram is 0.000001 of a milligram (mg)!

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