Melatonin is Not Just for Sleep

Melatonin is Not Just for Sleep

When I consult with people about sleep issues, I will always suggest that they take some melatonin (along with some other relaxing agents, such as magnesium, L-theanine, and/or sedative herbs). Often, the response I get is, “melatonin does not work for me”.  I then go into my spiel about how melatonin is not just for sleep.

Early melatonin studies were done by surgically swapping pineal glands between young and old rats (the pineal gland being that which produces melatonin). What those early researchers observed was a reversal in aging symptoms between the two groups of rats. Thus the young rats rapidly aged, and the old rats had their biological clocks rolled back, becoming younger in appearance and function. Fortunately for us, science went on to synthesize melatonin (though originally it was derived from pig brains), so we can all take advantage of this important anti-aging compound, without surgical intervention.

Health Benefits of Melatonin

One study, which looked at the antioxidant properties of melatonin, summed up its importance to our health as follows: “The physiological effects of melatonin are various and include detoxification of free radicals and antioxidant actions, bone formation and protection, reproduction, and cardiovascular, immune or body mass regulation. Also, protective and therapeutic effects of melatonin are reported, especially with regard to brain or gastrointestinal protection, psychiatric disorders, cardiovascular diseases and oncostatic (anticarcinogen) effects.”   (Study)

With regards to “gastrointestinal protection”, surprisingly, melatonin has been found to treat GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). “This review was designed to summarize the involvement of melatonin, conventionally considered as a major hormone of the pineal gland, in the maintenance of gastric mucosal integrity, gastroprotection, ulcer healing and intestinal disorders.”    (Study)

The discovery that women who worked the night shift had higher rates of cancer showed that melatonin was an important anti-cancer agent.    (Study)

Melatonin deficiency has even been linked to such obscure things as hair loss.   (Study)

Melatonin and Heart Disease

New research examined the heart protective benefits of melatonin and concluded that, while “melatonin does improve the outcomes of induced heart attacks in rats, those improvements are not the result of its antioxidant effect.”

Previous studies have shown melatonin to have antiarrhythmic effects, the assumption being that this was due to its antioxidant properties. In this study, researchers took a detailed approach to determining how melatonin affected the heart (in a rat model of heart attacks), seeking to find out if the heart benefits were due to only antioxidant properties.

One group of rats was given 10 mg of melatonin daily for seven days, while another received a placebo. Researchers then measured electrical activity in the rats’ hearts before, during, and after inducing a heart attack. The hearts were examined for measures of oxidative stress and antioxidant activity.

Incidence of both tachycardia and fibrillation was reduced in melatonin-treated rats, and a marker of antioxidant activity was also higher in the treated rats. However, there was no association between the presence of oxidative stress and incidence of irregular heartbeat.

Earlier melatonin studies have observed that blocking melatonin-specific receptors removed the antiarrhythmic benefit of melatonin. That information, along with what this new study revealed, suggest that melatonin’s protective effects for the heart “are related to its antiarrhythmic action, and this effect is related not to antioxidative properties but to melatonin receptor stimulation”. (Study)

So, we see that heart protection, and regulation of heart rate, are benefits separate from melatonin’s antioxidant functions.

Why You Need Melatonin

Simply put, we all need melatonin if we live in the city. Aside from the inhibition of melatonin production by artificial light (especially at night, but also from blue light from digital devices, and fluorescent lights during the day), the worst cause of melatonin deficiency is electromagnetic pollution. Both human and rat studies have proven that exposure to EMFs (from electronic equipment) and cell phone towers, dramatically reduces melatonin levels.  (Study)        (Article)

Tips on Using Melatonin

While the rats in the heart study were given 10 mg of  melatonin, my belief is we should ingest supplemental melatonin in amounts biologically suitable for our age group. A 70 year old needs about 3 mg, so until you are that age or older, start with one or two milligrams. Too much melatonin will usually leave a person groggy in the morning.

Melatonin should be taken under the tongue just before shutting the lights off, or as a time released product, 15 or so minutes before bed. Timed release seems to work better for those who wake up in the middle of the night. That being said, those who consistently wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning are usually suffering from adrenal burnout. Taking an adrenal rebuilding formula (such as AdrenalStart), for a month at least, can help one get back to sleeping through the night.

Do not give melatonin to adolescent children. The body withholds melatonin while the sex organs develop, so this is the one group that should not take it as a supplement. You can give children serotonin precursors (5-HTP, L-theanine), which will help with sleep, and also build some melatonin in the body. Also, there are foods that are naturally high in melatonin, which can be given to prepubescent children: these include cherry juice, pineapple juice, bananas, and oranges.

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