Melatonin health benefits
Melatonin health benefits include preventing insomnia, treating menopause effects and preventing and treating prostate and breast cancer.
It is a hormone that the brain’s pineal gland secretes to regulate the body’s circadian rhythms (biological clock) and the female reproductive hormone activity. It is also available as a supplement. Some research has demonstrated that the body’s melatonin level decreases as we age, which frequently impacts our sleep-wake cycle and may influence hormonal conditions.
People supplement with melatonin to compensate for jet lag, work schedule changes or insomnia, or in cancer cases, to treat the side effects of chemotherapy.
Caffeine, tobacco and alcohol can all lower melatonin levels circulating in the blood.
People generally spend one-third of lives sleeping; however, insomnia is the second most common overall health problem after pain reported in primary healthcare.
Insomnia causes include inactivity, dissatisfaction with social life, and physical and mental illness. Other causes that disrupt the body’s natural melatonin cycle (which is triggered by darkness) include shift work, jet lag and poor vision.
The combination of light therapy with a low melatonin dose has shown a positive result in re-aligning the sleep cycle and curbing insomnia.
Melatonin and aging
Cancer is a major cause of deaths worldwide, and is characterized by uncontrolled abnormal cell growth from malignant tumors which metastasize and spread to body areas beyond the point of origin.
Common cancers such as stomach, lung, colon, breast and liver are caused by the five leading behavioral and dietary risks of excess body weight, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of exercise, smoking and alcohol use.
Some melatonin health benefits include protecting healthy cells from cancer and mitigating chemotherapy side effects such as weight loss, nerve pain, and weakness.
Oxidation is an additional age-related disease precursor, which environmental pollutants and the over-burdening of the body’s natural stores of antioxidants exacerbate.
Healthy cells are damaged when oxygen circulates in the body, and the resulting free radicals are normally neutralized by the body’s antioxidant defense system.
In modern times, however, the sheer high-level load of toxins in the environment resulting from stress increases the number of free radical induced mutations in healthy DNA, which if left untreated replicate and develop disease.
To compensate for the extra oxidative damage, supplementing with dietary or nutraceutical antioxidants is necessary to help prevent disease.
One of the many melatonin health benefits is that it protects lipids and proteins from oxidative damage, and neutralizes some of the most harmful free radicals in the body – hydroxyl and hydrogen peroxide.
Since melatonin levels decline with age, older adults would probably benefit from taking a melatonin supplement to protect against oxidation.
Chronic inflammation is one of the consequences of aging that left untreated can lead to arthritis, diabetes, cancer or cardiovascular disease.
In a healthy scenario, inflammation develops at an injury site to signal, protect and heal the wound. But when an accumulation of harmful compounds occurs, resulting from stress, environmental pollution and the overpowering of the body’s natural maintenance processes, for example, it causes a low-grade, nearly undetectable level of inflammation which can persist for years and develop into disease unbeknownst to the sufferer.
Researchers theorize that one of the melatonin health benefits is that it reduces the rates of migraines, due to the anti-inflammatory and free-radical-scavenging properties of melatonin.
In a migraine study, participants took a 3 mg dose 30 minutes before bed for three months. This resulted in a 50% reduction in headaches in two-thirds of them, and also a decrease in intensity and duration of headaches.
The female menopause is considered complete when a menstrual period has ceased for 12 consecutive months, which generally occurs between the ages of 40 and 58.
The transitional phase preceding it is called peri-menopause and may last for 4-8 years. During this time, women experience hot flushes, a sudden wave of heat or warmth often accompanied by sweating, skin reddening and rapid heartbeat, and night sweats, which are hot flushes at night that may interfere with sleep patterns.
Melatonin, in its role in modifying sleep and female hormones, is particularly targeted towards improving menopause-related insomnia.
How can I add melatonin to my diet?
Dietary sources of melatonin include grapes, cherries, tomatoes, walnuts, and olive oil.
How much melatonin should I take?
You can take melatonin in pill and sublingual tablet forms, and a recommended standard dose varies depending on your health condition:
- Insomnia: 0.5 mg per day
- Jet lag: 3 to 5 mg per day
Experts generally recommend supplementation for fewer than two months. Different people have different responses to its effects. Lower doses appear to work better in people who are especially sensitive, while higher doses may cause anxiety and irritability.
Your doctor can test your melatonin levels with a blood test, urine test or saliva test. If you are concerned you may be melatonin deficient, ask your doctor about testing.
Taking melatonin supplements can result in irritability, confusion, dizziness, short-lasting feelings of depression, mild anxiety and daytime sleepiness. Some users may also experience headaches or gastrointestinal discomfort.
A melatonin supplement can interact with a number of medications, including:
- Blood pressure medications
- Blood-thinning medications (anticoagulants)
- Immunotherapy drugs such as interleukin-2
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Steroids and immunosuppressant drugs
- University of Maryland Medical Center. “Melatonin.” January 20, 2012. http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/melatonin-000315.htm
- Bruce, Debra Fulghum, Ph.D. Life Extension Magazine. “Melatonin.” January 2007. http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag2007/jun2007_nu_melatonin_01.htm
- Kraus, Stefanie S., et al. Journal of Affective Disorders. “Review: Sleep America: Managing the Crisis of Adult Chronic Insomnia and Associated Conditions.” May 2012. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21652083
- Carpentieria, A., et al. Pharmacological Research. “Review: New Perspectives in Melatonin Uses.” April 2012. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22311380
- Peres, M.F., et al. Neurology. “Melatonin, 3 mg, is effective for migraine prevention.” August 24, 2004. http://www.neurology.org/content/63/4/757