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WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit wanted to determine whether higher doses of melatonin would have any effect on suppressing tumor growth in hard to treat Triple Negative breast cancer.

Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced in the brain that regulates the body's sleep/wake cycle. Melatonin is also sold over the counter as a supplement.

Medical strength melatonin was given over 21 days to animal models right before room lights were switched off. Three weeks later, Dr. Ali Arbab, one of the study's authors, says the findings were very favorable.

"The key finding is the pharmacological doses. The tumor growth in the mice is decreased and the growth of new blood vessels has been decreased," says Dr. Arbab.

Dr. Colette Magnant, a breast surgeon and director of the Breast Cancer Program at Sibley Memorial Hospital, says the findings make sense.

Dr. Mangnant says, "People talk about nutrition and exercise, but sleep is incredibly important. They've even developed a term called Sleep Hygiene where people need to get enough sleep."

"Whatever we can do to slow angiogenesis, the growth of the blood vessels, should slow down the tumor growth. And especially in Triple Negative Breast Cancer patients where we have limited options about how to treat the patient, about how to prevent the growth, and about how to keep the tumor from occurring. This would be key."

Though promising in animal models, the effectiveness of clinical strength Melatonin in treating Triple Negative breast cancer is still in its extremely early stages. Clinical trials in humans, at the very least, are three years away.

In the meantime, Dr. Arbab prescribes eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables and getting 7 to 10 hours of sleep. He does not recommend taking large doses of the over-the-counter melatonin supplement. It would not have the same effect.

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