What exactly is Melatonin? If you do a google search you will find endless articles describing it as hormone use for sleep. That is what most people associate melatonin with as well. By the time you finish this article you will see that is much much more than the “sleep hormone”.
Melatonin is a hormone made naturally by your body. It is produced by the pineal gland in the brain and is a metabolite of serotonin. But it is also found in other areas, such as the eyes, bone marrow and gut. Melatonin works together with your body’s circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is your body’s internal clock. It lets you know when it’s time to sleep, wake and eat. Melatonin also helps regulate your body temperature, blood pressure and hormone levels. Melatonin levels start to rise in your body when it is dark outside, signaling to your body that it is time to sleep. It also binds to receptors in the body and can help you relax. For instance, melatonin binds to receptors in the brain to help reduce nerve activity. In the eyes, it can help reduce dopamine levels, a hormone that helps you stay awake. Although the exact way melatonin helps you fall asleep is unclear, research suggests these processes can help you fall asleep. Conversely, light suppresses melatonin production. This is one way that your body knows it is time to wake up. As melatonin helps your body prepare for sleep, people who don’t make enough of it at night can struggle to fall asleep.
There are many factors that may cause low levels at night. Stress, smoking, exposure to too much light at night (including blue light), not getting enough natural light during the day, shift work and aging all affect melatonin production. Poor nutrition and digestive and assimilation issues can prevent adequate levels of production.
Like most hormones, melatonin provides multiple benefits for the body. Melatonin is best known for its effect on sleep. There are multiple studies that prove melatonin does more than help with sleep. There is evidence that has an effect on glycemic control through reducing glucose. It stimulates secretion of glucagon which is important for glucose metabolism. Melatonin has been shown to significantly decrease inflammatory markers such as CRP and IL6.
One study found melatonin administration may benefit diabetics with coronary heart disease and doses of 10mg significantly increased plasma glutathione levels. Glutathione is the bodies master antioxidant and is responsible for proper detoxification. In a meta-analysis of random controlled trials doses of > 8mg melatonin was found to lower blood lipids to include triglycerides and total cholesterol. It was also noted to protect against LDL oxidation which is one of the biggest contributors to atherosclerosis. Lower levels of melatonin was associated with a greater risk of MI. Melatonin has been demonstrated to improve ulcer healing and prevent harmful substances to induce damage to the intestinal epithelium and may reduce the risk of intestinal permeability.
When I recommend melatonin, it is not just for sleep. It is time to get over all the superficial advertisements and explore the real benefits of this powerful and under estimated hormone. I hope by reading this you too will continue to use it as a regular part of your health program.
Health and happiness,