News Release: Research, School of Public Health

Feb. 11,  2009

Study Explores Melatonin as Treatment for Ulcerative Colitis

A pilot study underway at Emory University aims to determine if melatonin, the hormone that regulates the body clock, may help treat ulcerative colitis, a form of irritable bowel disease.

This study is the first of its kind to explore melatonin therapy for ulcerative colitis in adults. Ulcerative colitis is a common gastrointestinal disorder in adults. Current treatments are not always effective and often have serious side effects.

Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland under the brain and is also found in relatively high amounts in the lining of the gut. It is thought to be important in gut health.

Previous studies in animals have found that melatonin is important in gastrointestinal health and that supplemental melatonin may reduce inflammation in the colon.

Emory researchers are now identifying about 60 patients for the preliminary study. Participants will be assigned to either a group taking melatonin or a group taking a placebo. At the end of the pilot study, researchers will compare the symptoms and biological changes between the two groups.

"A positive finding in this trial will likely lead to larger melatonin trials, and perhaps one day melatonin or similar compounds may play an important role in therapy for ulcerative colitis and other inflammation-related conditions of the digestive tract," says study principal investigator Paul Terry, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of epidemiology, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University.

Terry will give a presentation on the Emory melatonin and ulcerative colitis pilot study today at a meeting of the Broad Medical Research Program, which is funding the study.

For study information, contact Sharon Pritchett, MPH, project coordinator, at 404-727-3218 or email


The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service. Its components include schools of medicine, nursing, and public health; Yerkes National Primate Research Center; the Emory Winship Cancer Institute; and Emory Healthcare, the largest, most comprehensive health system in Georgia. The Woodruff Health Sciences Center has a $2.3 billion budget, 17,000 employees, 2,300 full-time and 1,900 affiliated faculty, 4,300 students and trainees, and a $4.9 billion economic impact on metro Atlanta.

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