Many of you may know of melatonin as the hormone supplement to be used for sleep. Although that’s true, there is so much more that this hormone can do. Some researchers feel that even if you sleep well, melatonin is still worth taking for other reasons.
One thing to note is that Melatonin, like many other hormones, starts to decline in our 40’s. It is a hormone produced not just in the brain but in many other tissues throughout the body: the most abundant production being in the intestine. Researchers have also found that it is produced in the retina, the skin, the bone marrow, the thymus and in white blood cells which makes it an important regulator of the immune system.
Here are the many effects of Melatonin:
1. Protects against viral and bacterial infections-Studies have shown that melatonin reduces the ability of bacteria to reproduce, provides a non-conducive environment for bacteria to live, and decreases inflammation. It has also shown to be effective in treating viral infections, and in treating premature infants suffering from respiratory distress syndrome and septic shock. This is where melatonin can have a profound effect in strengthening our immune system.
2. Cardiovascular health- Studies in mice as well as humans have shown a reduction in blood pressure when taking melatonin. As we age, the risks of coronary disease, high blood pressure, heart failure and stroke increase and melatonin decreases. Melatonin can prevent and treat heart disease and high blood pressure due to its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects.
3. Alzheimer’s and neurodegenerative diseases- Melatonin is the major antioxidant in the brain and nervous system. Since oxidative stress is the primary destructive force on our brain cells, having enough melatonin is essential to preserving brain cells and function, especially over the age of 60. Melatonin acts directly on the DNA and mitochondria in our cells allowing them to behave more like our younger selves.
When our brain cells die (due to poor health, drugs, malabsorption, sedentary lifestyle and aging), we rely on brain stem cells to replace them. But these cells diminish as we get older and they are harder to replace. Melatonin can help this process of neurogenesis (brain stem cells replacing dead cells). It also stimulates hippocampal neurogenesis, which is important because the hippocampus is the region in the brain that regulates short-term memory and spatial orientation.
4. Menopause- Melatonin has been shown to help menopausal symptoms including mood and reducing depression. There seems to be a recovery of pituitary and thyroid functions in melatonin-treated women.
5. Ionizing radiation- X-rays, CT and PET scans are the main sources of ionizing radiation which with repeated and prolonged exposure increases the risk of cancer. Children are especially at risk. Melatonin in human studies has been able to cancel the potentially damaging effects of ionizing radiation. The doses used in research are 300 mg of melatonin which seems quite high but the effects were amazing. Lymphocytes (WBC’s) in blood samples were taken from men and women. After exposure of the equivalent of 1000 CT scans (I know…that’s alot!) all the samples had a degree of genetic damage due to the radiation. The cells that were taken an hour and two hours after the melatonin dosing had significantly less genetic damage. Something to think about if you need these procedures done.
6. Macular degeneration- Melatonin is produced in the retina, the part of the eye that is affected by macular degeneration. People with macular degeneration (MD) have lower levels of melatonin. Oxidative stress is the primary cause of this condition. Studies have shown that it can prevent and slow the progression for either dry or wet MD.
7. Cancer- There are several published studies on the use of melatonin and cancer. Researchers have reported that not only has melatonin been shown to have an anti-cancer effect but it also has an immune reaction against cancer. It protects healthy cells from the negative effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Some studies showed that adding melatonin to chemotherapy enhanced the treatment effect of the drug while at the same time decreasing the side effects. Melatonin has been used in breast cancer studies since it has SERM (selective estrogen receptor modulator) and SEEM (selective estrogen enzyme modulator) properties. This means it has anti-estrogen and anti-aromatase actions. Melatonin also stimulates apoptosis (programmed cell death). Melatonin has shown cancer prevention and benefits in the treatment of prostate cancer whether cancer cells were sensitive to hormones or not. The anti-cancer properties of melatonin include colorectal, breast, prostate, pancreas, liver and brain cancer.
Choose a pure melatonin in a powder or use capsules free of additives. If side effects occur (ie. waking up with vivid dreams) try a different brand. Also, there is no negative feedback inhibition with melatonin. This means that there is no concern with taking melatonin that it can cause the body to stop making its own. You can take as much as you want and it will not interfere with your own production of melatonin.
Just a side note…I have used melatonin for teens with great success. I find it especially good for kids with sensory integration issues. So it’s not just for people older than fifty. By the time you are 20 years old, you have some deficiencies, but even those with alot of stress, inflammation, malabsorption, food sensitivities and repeated infections, melatonin may be a part of your healing program.
Shallenberger, F. Melatonin isn’t just for sleeping-from cardiovascular disease and cancer to aging and macular degeneration the research will shock you. Townsend Letter. Feb/March 2019. pp.50-57.
Sanchez-Barcelo EJ, et al. Melatonin uses in oncology: breast cancer prevention and reduction of the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Expert Opin Investig Drugs. 2012 June, 21(6):819-31.