New Discoveries About Melatonin
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Melatonin supplementation is so important I devoted a whole chapter to the subject in Health Secrets for the 21st Century: Volume 2 (available through stores that carry NutriStart products).
However, as I mentioned in that book, there is always new information. So here are a few benefits of melatonin that didn’t make it into my book, including why melatonin may be of benefit in protecting us against COVID. (For those unaware, melatonin production is suppressed by exposure to electromagnetic pollution; I believe most city-dwellers should supplement with it.)
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland, first identified for its role in regulation of sleep and fertility cycles, and later found to prevent cancer in those with disrupted circadian rhythms (such as night shift workers).
Over the last 20 years or so, many studies have been done with melatonin and have discovered a wide range of effects associated with it, “including anti-inflammatory, both direct and indirect antioxidant activity, tissue regenerative benefits, and preservation of mitochondrial function”.
Other functions of melatonin, particularly its anti-aging and anti-stress properties, along with its ability to support immune function, have led researchers to study the effects of melatonin on skin and bone health.
Melatonin and Skin Health
I was surprised to find out that “human skin and hair follicles express functional melatonin receptors. They also engage in substantial melatonin synthesis”. Although that knowledge did help to explain why a study I found years ago showed that the application of melatonin topically helped to reverse hair loss. (In addition, to reversing hair loss, “a decrease in seborrhea and seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp was observed”.) Topical Melatonin for Treatment of Androgenetic Alopecia
Given that melatonin has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory attributes, as well as supporting mitochondria, researchers thought it should have some benefits for supporting skin health. However, unlike most studies (except for the hair loss study), this one used melatonin topically. (Which, by the way, in the hair loss study, did not lead to increased blood levels of melatonin.)
This study revealed that topical melatonin reduced markers of free radical damage on the skin, and reversed signs of skin aging. Given those benefits, the researchers hypothesized that topical melatonin could be used to counteract the prevalence of photo-damage to the skin from sunlight, and even protect the skin from potential skin cancer risk.
Melatonin and Bone Health
According to the authors of one study, while previous studies have shown melatonin to regulate bone mass in a positive manner, no studies have been done to see how melatonin might affect the bone mass of elderly people. Well, they chose to study rats instead of people, the aim of the study being to “assess the effects of dietary melatonin supplementation on mass accrual and biomechanical properties of old rat femora.”
And, indeed, their study provided evidence “indicating that dietary melatonin supplementation is able to exert beneficial effects against age-related bone loss in old rats, improving the microstructure and biomechanical properties of aged bones”.
Melatonin and Sepsis
Sepsis is the medical term for the body’s response to an infection, and it has the potential to be fatal. Sepsis affects about 30 million people worldwide, every year, and out of that number around 6 million die. Thus, researchers are always on the lookout for anything that might help safely treat this condition.
Any type of infection, bacterial, fungal, or viral, can lead to sepsis, and one of the main causes is pneumonia. And, of course, pneumonia is the respiratory tract infection that causes most deaths which are a result of influenza (from the Spanish Flu to COVID-19).
When sepsis kicks in, we see massive free radical damage and mitochondrial dysfunction, along with an exaggerated inflammatory response which, in the extreme, can lead to multi-organ failure and death.
Normally, the body releases certain chemicals into the bloodstream in order to fight an infection, but when the response to these chemicals goes wild, we have the condition defined as sepsis. This response is what is known as a “cytokine storm”, a term familiar to those following the science on COVID-19.
When our immune system responds to an attack, the body produces cytokines, molecules released to fight off the infection or virus. Normally, the body only produces enough cytokines to do the job, and then ceases production once the infectious agents have been defeated. However, sometimes the immune system continues to release these molecules, which can ultimately attack the organs they were intended to protect.
So, sepsis can lead to a cytokine storm: “Our study shows that, in response to infection, IL-3 promotes the production of inflammatory monocytes and neutrophils—immune cells that are sources of the so-called cytokine storm that underlies sepsis.” (Source)
More than just causing a cytokine storm, sepsis also can cause blood clots to form in the body. As does COVID-19, which, in some cases, triggers the formation of blood clots that can lead to strokes and other life-threatening complications,
It has now been established that sepsis and COVID-19 are not only related, but according to the Global Sepsis Alliance, “COVID-19 does indeed cause sepsis”. (Source)
Now to the crux of it: melatonin can mitigate the effects of sepsis, and thus may aid in protecting us from COVID-19.
Melatonin has significant anti-inflammatory properties and, in several animal studies, has been demonstrated to reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines levels. In one rat study, rats with induced acute lung injury were given melatonin which “attenuated pulmonary inflammation…with an increase of the anti-inflammatory cytokine interleukin 10”.
Other animal studies examining sepsis “have demonstrated that melatonin can prevent multi-organ dysfunction and improve survival through restoring mitochondrial electron transport chain (ETC) function, inhibiting nitric oxide synthesis and reducing cytokine production”.
I will end with the conclusion of the research paper, Melatonin for the treatment of sepsis: the scientific rationale: “The safety profile and minimal side effects of oral melatonin should encourage clinicians to consider using melatonin as adjunctive therapy in patients with severe sepsis and septic shock. The optimal dose of melatonin in the treatment of patients with sepsis is unknown. Currently a clinical trial of antioxidant therapy in patients with septic shock is evaluating a 50 mg nighttime dose of melatonin.”
In my opinion, melatonin should usually be taken at a dose applicable for one’s age (those 70 years and older require roughly 3 mg). And, for the purposes of sleep, taking more will not necessarily work better, and will have the effect of shutting down your body’s own production of melatonin. However, for serious therapeutic protocols, such as cancer and sepsis, high doses seem to be required, and will do no harm. In fact, they have found no lethal dose for melatonin in animal studies. So, if you ever find yourself in the position of grasping at straws, this is a pretty safe straw to grasp at.