Melatonin – Its needed for more than sleep
Melatonin, a hormone produced in the pineal gland in the center of the brain, has long been known for its ability to cause sleepiness. In “All about Melatonin,” an article in the August, 2015 edition of Better Nutrition, author Dr. Isaac Eliaz notes that the hormone has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties too. It has been classified as an immune modulator and “master repair hormone.”
Many white blood cells have receptors for melatonin and when there isn’t as much of it available, these white blood cells don’t function as well. Melatonin appears to help induce cancer cells to die, and decreases tumor blood vessel production, interfering with cancer growth if not survival. It may also lessen the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
The many forms of caffeine available as well as lighting and electronics can interfere with the normal production of melatonin. Considering the many essential roles of melatonin and sleep, it isn’t hard to understand the connection between a lack of such and acute as well as chronic diseases.
In the article “The Efficacy of Oral Melatonin in Improving Sleep in Cancer Patients with Insomnia: A randomized, double- blind placebo-controlled study” by M. Kurdi and S. Muthukalai, it is noted that melatonin production starts in the evening with a decrease in light. One and a half to two hours later, the individual starts to feel sleepy. This article, found in Indian Journal of Palliative Care for July – September, 2016 Vol. 22, #3, discussed the effects of giving melatonin to a group of patients with cancer. The results of this research led the authors to conclude that giving melatonin led to improved sleep quality and decreased sleep latency – the amount of time between going to bed and falling asleep.
The authors of the above article also added that melatonin has a half-life of only 12 to 48 minutes. What this means is that it is soon cleared from the body and not going to produce drowsiness during the day if it is taken in the evening. Not every sleep aid can make that claim. Exogenous melatonin (not made in the body, such as oral tablets), is quickly absorbed and peak levels are reached one hour to two and a half hours later.
In “Optimal dosages of Melatonin Supplementation Therapy in Older Adults: A systematic review of the Current Literature,” by E. Vural, et al, found in Drugs Aging (2014) 31:441-451, it is emphasized that melatonin production is decreased in older individuals. In healthy younger adults, melatonin secretion peaks between 2 and 4 a.m. at an average level of 60 pg/ml, gradually decreasing to less than 10 pg/ml during the day.
The pattern of melatonin secretion also changes with age. Changes in breakdown and elimination of melatonin led the authors to recommend that older individuals start with the low dose of 0.3 mg., and that they use only the immediate release formulations. As with all information in this article, this is not to serve as medical advice but rather information to be discussed with the person’s health care provider. Pregnant women shouldn’t take melatonin.
Enhancing Melatonin Production
In “All About Melatonin,” some recommendations for increasing melatonin production are given. These include keeping a regular schedule of sleep in a dark room, avoiding bright lights (including computers, cell phones, and smart phones) in the later evening, and using blackout curtains if your bedroom is near a source of outdoor nighttime lighting. The following foods can also support melatonin production:
- Cherries, oranges, pineapple and bananas
- Tomatoes and corn
- Oats and barley