Melatonin Beyond Sleep
• Why Is Melatonin An Anti-Aging Factor?
• How Does It Affect The Brain?
– The Eyes & Ears?
– Digestive System?
• What Antioxidant Properties Does It Have?
How Are Melatonin And Our “Crown Chakra” Related?
Look Inside – And Be Surprised!
Melatonin became an overnight sensation when it was featured on the cover of Newsweek in 1995. The potential of melatonin to relieve insomnia, jet lag, stress, depression, and many other health concerns was discussed in the article. People made a “mad rush” to natural product stores to buy the “wonder pill”. – Michael T. Murray Encyclopedia of Natural Supplements
Go Beyond Sleep With Melatonin
Melatonin has become so synonymous with sleep that few people realize this is only one of it’s many health-promoting properties.
One source commented that “sleep is a happy side effect of melatonin”. Beyond being a remedy for insomnia and jet lag, melatonin’s benefits are many and surprising.*
Known as a “chronobiotic”, melatonin’s main job is the maintenance of our circadian rhythms, the sleep/wake cycle. This involves it in the regulation of many bodily functions. These include salutary effects on the aging process as well as on cancer, immunity, heart disease, blood profiles, diabetes, digestive problems, and other undesirable conditions.
At Nutrition News, we believe that, if you are over 40, taking melatonin as part of your daily supplement regimen is a good idea.
- Throughout this issue, I have placed a parenthetical exclamation point (!) whenever I was surprised about the information I found.
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland, a pea-sized gland at the base of the brain. (See photo, left.) The ancient Greeks considered the gland to be the “seat of the Soul”. This relates to Hindu/yogic lore in which the site is distinguished as the “Crown” or 7th Chakra, imaged as a many petaled lotus or an emanating light at the top of the head.1
It wasn’t until the 1900s the pineal was considered part of the endocrine system. The discovery of melatonin in 1958 (!) provided evidence of the essential role of the gland. Once labeled as “the master gland”, it is now known to be involved in many aspects of biological and physiologic regulation.
Melatonin is a neurotransmitter-like compound and an antioxidant (!). It is produced in the body in areas additional to the pineal gland (!). One of these is the gastrointestinal tract. More melatonin is produced in the gut than is produced in the brain (!). There are also melatonin receptors throughout the body, including in the eyes (!).
Humans are not the only life forms making melatonin (!).
Although it is most extensively studied in vertebrates: mammals, reptiles, amphibians, bony and cartilaginous ﬁshes and birds (!), it is also produced by some plants (!).
Plant sources for melatonin include feverfew, St. John’s wort, and other herbs; some fruits, such as bananas, cherries, and grapes; and grains, including rice, wheat, barley, and oats.
Other foods include olive oil, coffee, tea, wine, and beer. Apparently, the antioxidant properties of melatonin are especially important to plant survival. Root development and seed production are also enhanced. Excess consumption of these foods does not raise melatonin significantly in humans.
In humans, melatonin is a derivative of serotonin, which comes from 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP, a commonly used sleep-inducing supplement). The enzymes involved in the synthesis of melatonin are themselves affected by light and darkness. The clock-setting property of melatonin has led to it being called a “chronobiotic”. In plants, the synthesis of melatonin uses different compounds from those used by animals (!).
Go Beyond Sleep With Melatonin
1 The use of melatonin may enhance early morning meditation and visualization, traditional yogic practices. Plus, the stabilizing and synchronizing effect on brain electrical activity may support lucid dreaming, leading to greater self-knowledge through dream analysis.
Melatonin Against Aging
Melatonin Deficiency Syndrome is perhaps the basic mechanism through which aging changes can be explained,” state Rozenweig, et al in their 1987 study. Recently, a two-part melatonin article in Life Extension titled “The Brain Hormone” called for the broad use of supplemental melatonin as “safe hormone replacement therapy”. (Fredericks, September 2013)
After age 40, melatonin levels decline. Ultimately, the melatonin peak measured during sleep disappears almost completely. (The poor sleep patterns of the elderly are well-known.)
Further, there is a relation between melatonin and damage to the brain. Several studies have remarked on the correlation between the fall in melatonin and the rise in Alzheimer’s incidence among aging individuals. (As we age and our melatonin levels decrease, we become more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease.) Alzheimer’s patients have been found to have melatonin levels only one-fifth those of healthy young people, making melatonin deficiency an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.
One reason for the neuroprotective effect of melatonin is its antioxidant power. In fact, the brain lacks any other antioxidant defense mechanism. As melatonin levels decline, the brain becomes more vulnerable to damage at the cellular level. Fredericks writes that the effects manifest as various diseases of the aging brain, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Lifelong studies of extending human life with melatonin don’t exist. Studies on animals with shorter lifespans do. The typical subject of such studies is the fruit fly. (Lifespan, 40-50 days.) Melatonin-fed fruit flies enjoyed a 33% increase in maximum lifespan. Curiously, a mouse study which found no increase in lifespan, found an increase in the lifespan of the last surviving 10% of the mice.
Calorie restriction is the only documented way to extend life.2 Animals undergoing calorie restriction show dramatically increased secretion of melatonin. Simultaneously, calorie restriction activates SIRT1, the “longevity protein”. SIRT1 triggers a number of self-healing genes. SIRT1 is likewise increased by melatonin. In other words, melatonin brings SIRT1 while calorie restriction promotes the presence of both substances, encouraging longevity.
There is certainly a good case for the use of supplemental melatonin as an antiaging substance. Don’t you agree?
Melatonin Against Aging
2 In Nutrition News, “5:2, Is It For You?”, we discussed intermittent fasting as a means of calorie restriction.
Melatonin VS Cancer
Melatonin is an immune modulator. Multiple studies point to melatonin’s protective role against a number of types of cancer. These include breast, prostate, and uterine cancers as well as brain cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, gastric, bladder, and colorectal cancers, and leukemia.
Most cancer patients have low levels of melatonin. Studies show melatonin supplements improve immune function in cancer patients without adverse effects (10-20 mg at night).
Melatonin works against cancer predominately by enhancing the production of two anti-tumor messengers: interleukin-2 and interleukin-12. Its antioxidant properties curb free radical production during chemotherapy, also protecting DNA from oxidation.
The connection between breast cancer and the protective effect of melatonin has been known for decades. Melatonin inhibits breast cancer cell growth, acts against the effects of estrogen on tumor cells, and apparently reduces the number of estrogen receptors on breast cancer cells.
Women who work night shifts (which inhibits melatonin secretion) may increase their cancer risk by up to 60%. Meanwhile blind women have a 36% lower risk than normally sighted women because of secreting consistently higher levels of melatonin.
Life Extension Disease Prevention and Treatment reports that some cancer patients are using melatonin as part of a comprehensive, nontoxic cancer treatment.
Life Extension research shows that when the the defense system is compromised due to disrupted circadian rhythms, tumors grow 2-3 times faster!
The editors also report on the use of melatonin to support both chemo- and radiation therapy, protecting patients against the toxicity of these treatments. In the case of chemo-, they state, “If melatonin is considered, it should be started before chemotherapy is initiated.”
Melatonin & Sleep Issues
Insomnia. Nocturnal melatonin levels and quality of sleep both decline at puberty. Eventually, levels become very low.
Several studies have demonstrated that supplementary melatonin has tranquilizing and sleep-inducing effects.
In their article Meta-Analysis: Melatonin for Primary Sleep Disorders, the authors report that high doses given to healthy subjects accelerated sleep initiation and improved sleep maintenance without morning “hangover problems.”
In other studies, volunteers experienced increased alpha brain wave activity and a feeling of well-being. Melatonin also increased REM sleep time and resulted in increased and vivid dream episodes.
Researchers writing for Medical Hypotheses surmised that melatonin may induce slow-wave sleep, a deeply restful sleep during which repair of damaged tissue takes place.
This sleep also declines with age. In fact, the neurochemical and neuropsychological features of senile dementia resemble some effects of melatonin deficiency. Nightly supplementary melatonin has been suggested for prevention of this disease.
Besides insomnia, there is evidence indicating melatonin deficiency as the bases for nightmares, disturbing nocturnal hallucinations, and daytime difficulties, including lassitude, dizziness, and depression.
Supplemental melatonin has proved useful in restoring normal slumber in delayed sleep phase syndrome, an inability to fall asleep until 2-3a. Small doses of melatonin given at 10p have advanced the sleep phase by about one and a half hours (12:30-1:30 a).
Further Benefits Of Melatonin
There are many other ways in which melatonin affects our health. For your convenience, these are presented in alphabetical order in this section.
Antioxidant properties. Melatonin is the single antioxidant substance produced by the brain. It’s broad antioxidant effects are able to neutralize a host of free radicals. Further, unlike other antioxidants, melatonin readily crosses the blood-brain barrier, allowing it to act on tissues other than the brain.
A few studies have compared the antioxidant effects of melatonin with other antioxidants. Melatonin has been found to be more efficient than vitamin C in reducing oxidative stress in an experimental model of Alzheimer’s, and to be more effective than vitamin E in reducing acetominophen toxicity (in mice).
Cardiovascular conditions. The antioxidant activity of melatonin protects the heart. The presence of melatonin has reduced the severity of heart attacks and improved survival.
It has also limited the frequency and duration of tachycardia and fibrillation. One review noted that melatonin cut cholesterol by 38% in human participants, lowered LDL oxidation, and reduced blood pressure. It also limits stroke damage and hastens recovery.
Depression. Melatonin levels are low in people with major depressive disorder and panic disorder. More healthy individuals with mild or episodic depression had lower than normal levels. However, Malhotra, et al, caution the use of supplemental melatonin with depression. Taking the hormone other than nighttime can exacerbate the condition. On the other hand, in a large study of postmenopausal women, melatonin use alleviated depression and anxiety.
Eyes & Ears
Eyes & Ears. Small amounts of melatonin are synthesized in the retina of humans and most other animals (!), likely reducing oxidative damage to the eye. It is reported to be useful in glaucoma, lowering pressure in the eye; impeding the progress of cataracts; and protecting visual acuity in people with AMD (age-related macular degeneration).
Re: Ears. There is some evidence that melatonin is useful in the treatment of noise-related hearing loss, age-related hearing loss, and tinnitus.
Gastro-intestinal complaints. Melatonin is found at levels hundreds of times higher in the gut than in the brain (!). Animal trials have shown it to protect the esophagus from acid damage in GERD, as well as against damage from digestive enzymes and bile. In several human studies, patients given 3 mg melatonin before bed experienced decreased heartburn and gastric pain after 4 weeks while their GERD was completely resolved after 8 weeks.
Numerous studies have suggested that melatonin can reduce inflammation in IBD (inflammatory bowel disease). It has also been shown to be useful in treating Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Among studies with people with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), 3 mg of melatonin taken before bed resulted in reduced abdominal pain, rectal sensitivity, and bloating. Other findings have been improved bowel function and a reduction in lethargy.
Lastly, melatonin appears to have an effect on the microbiome (gut bacteria). In this case, aged ring doves were studied. As with old humans, their melatonin levels were low. One effect of this was that their capacity to destroy the dreaded C. albicans was reduced. However, their gut returned to normal with melatonin supplementation.
Immunity. Apparently, melatonin helps fight many types of viral infections. It interacts with T-helper cells, and increases antibody production. In addition, melatonin’s antioxidant properties also support immunity.
In patients with AIDS, 20 mg/d in the evening resulted in ”generally” beneficial effects on the immune system. Researchers report greater efficacy when melatonin is given 3-4 weeks, followed by a 1-week washout before continuing.3
Melatonin secretion is “perturbed” by surgery. It has been shown to work as well as antianxiety drugs before surgery, with the advantage of no post-op impairment.
Migraines. Some researchers have considered that migraines are triggered by an irregularity of the pineal gland. Migraine sufferers have experienced relief by adding melatonin. The authors suggest 3 mg/d for a 12- 16 week course of observation.
Parkinson’s disease. Making several citations, Fredericks reports,
“Animal studies demonstrate that melatonin supplementation can prevent – and to some extent reverse – the changes in behavior and motor function induced by Parkinson’s disease.”
Melatonin’s ability to prevent and reverse these changes is the result of greater survival of the dopamine-producing cells that become damaged or destroyed in this disease.
If you are interested in investigating this further, the URL is: http://www.lifeextension.com/magazine/2013/9/melatonin-the-brain-hormone/page-02
Stress. Melatonin can “neutralize” cortisol, the stress hormone. The nighttime rise of melatonin correlates with a drop in the steroid cortisol. If you are experiencing chronic, late-night stress, maybe your cortisol isn’t dropping.
This is a case for supplemental melatonin. The recommendation is that one start with as little as 0.3 mg and build. Some may require up to 10 mg daily.
Further Benefits Of Melatonin
3 Maestroni & Conti, article on melatonin and the immune system in Melatonin and the Pineal Gland….; Elsevier, 1993
How To Use Melatonin
Melatonin is highly non-toxic. In animals, no lethal dose (LD50) could be found.
Before age 40, our bodies normally produce 0.03 mg of melatonin during the night. Thus, begin the supplement in small quantities (0.03 mg) and build slowly. Most people seem to find 3-10 mg works for them. (Another surprise (!) is that melatonin was taken in quantities up to 50 mg (!) in the resources used for this issue.) Always take your nighttime melatonin ½hr – 2hrs before bed.
Melatonin, Siri Says:
If you’re over 40, get on the melatonin, folks. It’s very inexpensive and so good for you.
Keep in mind that reading late at night, watching TV, or sending emails can stop your melatonin production dead
in its tracks, depriving you of the hormone’s many health benefits.
Even the slightest amount of light in the white or blue bandwidths is enough to seriously depress your pineal gland’s
melatonin for the night. This is why if you rock light into the night, be sure that you sleep in total darkness. It’s so important!