What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland from the essential amino acid L-tryptophan and declines significantly when a person reaches age 40.
Melatonin controls the circadian rhythm as well as deep stages of sleep. Studies suggest that the immune system depends on it’s positive effects for deep sleep. Peak levels of it occur at night and lower with bright light during the day time.
Helps You Catch Zzz’s
The essential amino acid (L-tryptophan) from which melatonin is derived helps to regulate your circadian sleep rhythm. This is found in turkey and commonly thought to make people sleepy! The tryptophan that we consume through foods (like turkey and milk) is converted into serotonin and then metabolized into melatonin at night.
A Powerful Antioxidant
Melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant that can protect against cancer by eliminating free radicals. It does this by activating the cytokine system (lymphocytic function). This neuroprotective effect on the brain has also been proven to keep brain damage to a minimum.
Melatonin is a super antioxidant due to its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier (most antioxidants are unable to cross this barrier). It also increases the production of one of your body’s most powerful natural antioxidants: glutathione. Glutathione protects your brain from oxidative stress which is critical for healthy aging.
Melatonin works with cholecystokinin in the digestive tract to decrease the likelihood and severity of many symptoms associated with gastric ulcers and colitis. It has also been thought to fight against cancer (especially prostate, breast and colon cancers). Recent studies have suggested that women who work at night may have up to 60% greater risk of developing breast cancer (due to lower melatonin production).
As you age, your melatonin levels will naturally decrease. This is why some older people sleep less (even though they still need the same amount of sleep as they did when they were younger).
Menstrual and Headache Benefits
When estradiol is administered to postmenopausal women, their melatonin levels increase. This occurs naturally throughout a woman’s life before she reaches menopause, having a positive effect on women’s menstrual cycles.
Your Stressful Friend, Cortisol
Even though we can’t live without cortisol, we don’t need elevated levels of the stress hormone either. Cortisol production is regulated, in part, to melatonin levels. This could be the reason cortisol levels increase with age. Maintaining healthy levels of cortisol can prevent damage caused by long-term, elevated cortisol activity.
Culprits of Low Levels:
- Vitamin B12
- NSAID anti-inflammatory medication
- Beta-blocker medication
- Glucocorticoid medication
- Frequent stress
Melatonin Replacement Therapy
Melatonin should be taken at bedtime (many patients experience day drowsiness if taken in the morning). Low doses (.3mg) will still provide you with an antioxidant effect. Trouble sleeping has occasionally been experienced by patients. This problem is often resolved by discontinuing the therapy for 1 – 2 weeks.
Melatonin is a natural substance that is not addictive or habit-forming, so there is no rebound effect from discontinuation.
*Never take melatonin supplements derived from animals.
Melatonin Therapy Cautions:
- There are no drug interactions with melatonin.
- Asthmatic patients with nighttime symptoms should be cautious with melatonin supplementation.
- If you have an autoimmune disease, exercise caution when taking melatonin.
- Avoid using heavy machinery or driving while taking melatonin, as it causes drowsiness.
(Side effects are very rare and usually related to high doses.)
- Vivid dreams
- Morning grogginess (usually attributed to doses that are higher than normal)
- Stomach pains
- Decrease of male sex drive