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Study reveals melatonin isn't just good for helping you fall asleep: 'A safe alternative'

"Without any adverse effects on the consumer['s] health."

New study reveals melatonin isn't just good for helping you fall asleep

Photo Credit: iStock

Melatonin arguably keeps people fresh by allowing us to sleep better and longer — and new research suggests it can keep fruits and veggies fresher, too.

How does melatonin keep produce fresh?

Reviewing studies from around the world, researchers at Australia's Edith Cowan University (ECU) found evidence that applying melatonin to fruits and vegetables lessens the effects of "chilling injury," a type of damage done to cold-stored produce. 

Refrigeration is necessary to prevent perishable agricultural products from spoiling between the time they're harvested and the time they're sold. However, this chilling can create undesirable effects.

The report explained that chilling injury can involve "browning, off-flavor and sunken spots, reduced juice content, uneven ripening and softening in fresh horticultural produce." Up to 44% of fresh produce is lost between the farm and being consumed, noted ECU professor Zora Singh, the report's lead researcher, in a release. 

According to the research, treatments with melatonin — a hormone that occurs naturally in plants — reduced cold injury 21-42% across all fruits and veggies, as compared to untreated produce. Treatments were generally more effective for fruits.

The researchers published findings in Food Reviews International in May.

Why should you care about melatonin keeping produce fresh?

Food loss and waste are global problems with economic, humanitarian, and environmental implications. Anything like melatonin that can work to reduce impacts can be helpful to people and the planet. If a solution can replace toxic alternatives like hazardous food preservatives, so much the better.

About 14% of the World's food, worth $400 billion, is "lost" annually between harvest and market, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. The FAO estimated that 17% of food is then "wasted" at retail and consumer levels. 

This is a social concern, as the FAO reported for 2022 that 2.4 billion people, or almost 30% of Earth's population, didn't have "constant access to food," and around 900 million people "faced severe food insecurity." Meanwhile, food lost and wasted could feed 1.26 billion people annually, per the FAO.

Tackling the especially large 44% loss of fresh produce with nontoxic melatonin could be low-hanging fruit in the broader food security battle. 

"Melatonin is a safe alternative to hazardous chemical treatments, without any adverse effects on the consumer['s] health," said study coauthor and ECU Ph.D. student Shoaib Shah in a statement.

How might melatonin on produce help the environment?

The problem of food loss is environmental as well. Unused produce represents wasted water, fuel, and land. 

The FAO reported that food loss and waste represent about 8-10% of heat-trapping pollution globally. If food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third-largest contributor of such pollution, after China and the U.S. And this pollution brings floods and droughts that, in turn, hurt farming

Singh summed up why he searches for aids like melatonin: "[W]e need to find the solution to keep producing food from the Earth in a sustainable way."

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