This is yet another “Real Food” post that is about how what’s in our food isn’t always…food. Your local Walgreens and 7-11 now offers you Lazy Cakes, Kush Cakes and Lulla Pies, brownie sort-of snacks that have a little extra than what you’d find in your average Ding Dong. These new desserts contain melatonin, a dietary supplement used to help treat sleep disorders and are being promoted to help people relax.
Melatonin is actually a hormone secreted by the pineal gland; it helps to maintain the body’s circadian rhythm, our internal 24-hour clock which “plays a critical role in when we fall asleep and when we wake up,” according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
The snacks contain about 8 milligrams of melatonin per brownie or cookie, indeed enough to send someone to slumberland. But as the New York Times notes, the Food and Drug Administration has not approved melatonin as a food additive or said that it’s safe when added to foods. Physicians are concerned that consumers might snack away at melatonin-laced snacks and overlook the very real effects of the supplement: Falling asleep.
Dr. David S. Seres, the director of medical nutrition at Columbia Medical Center, cautioned that consumers should consult their doctors before trying such products.
“The promoters of these are appealing to people who think it’s better to do things outside of the medical establishment,” he said, adding that “the desire to help people is an extremely strong motivator, but so is money.” He pointed to a section of the National Institutes of Health’s Web site that lists several drugs, including sedatives like clonazepam and birth control pills, whose efficacy might be altered by melatonin.
“A hangover effect has been reported” with large doses, said Anna Rouse Dulaney, a toxicologist with the Carolinas Poison Center. But she added, “I don’t want to go on the record saying this drug ‘can’ cause respiratory issues, that should be a ‘may.’”
The labels of products like Lazy Cakes and Mary J’s brownies (both of which can be bought online) specify that they are “Not for food use,” are only for adults and that users are to “take ½ brownie, two times a day.” In “tiny type,” the labels also advise “against operating heavy machinery or driving.”
But who eats only half a brownie?
Certainly it’s confusing for anyone to find a product labels “cake” and then read that it’s “not for food use.”
Online marketing for these products certainly suggests that they’re meant to be, ah, eaten. Facebook for Lulla Pies proclaims that it’s the “Gourmet Relaxation Edible,” while one for Kush Cakes says that it is a “premium relaxation brownie that will melt in your mouth and gives you complete relaxtation [sic].”
Some will say that the physicians are making a big kerfluffle over, well, snack items. Who of us isn’t stressed or worrying about high blood pressure, the economy, etc.; how can a brownie with a little extra “kick” of a sleepytime sort hurt?
I’ll admit I’m not inclined to try the likes of Lazy Cakes. My son has taken melatonin for some years as he has a lot of trouble regulating his sleep pattern; he’s on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum and, like a lot of autistic children, has trouble sleeping. Charlie takes pills with no problem and I’ve never thought to try to hide melatonin, or other medications in food: Charlie always notices. For myself, I’d rather he knows that it’s the little white tablet that helps him sleep, not an “edible” that looks like a “normal/regular” brownie.
Should the likes of Lazy Cakes and Lulla Pies come with bigger warnings about their slumber-bringing effects? Should they simply be banned?
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