When you think of melatonin, the first thing that probably comes to mind is supporting sleep. It can be very helpful for initiating sleep, increasing sleep duration, as well as regulating circadian rhythm and reducing jet lag. But research shows that it also has other exciting and significant health benefits. For example, studies indicate that it can also protect against neurodegenerative diseases and brain injury, help with migraines, provide important support for cancer patients, support heart health, and protect the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
Part of the brain (pineal gland) makes hormones, one of which is melatonin – but it is now known that it is also produced in multiple sites in the body. In fact, up to 500 times more melatonin is synthesized in the intestinal tract than in the pineal gland. Derived from the amino acid L-tryptophan, it has powerful antioxidant capabilities and anti-inflammatory properties.
The amount of melatonin your body produces depends on the time of the day. At night you produce up to 15 times more, which is why you feel sleepy. If your body’s natural production decreases due to high light exposure in the evening, it does not permit your body to release the melatonin required for sleep. As you age, your natural production decreases, as well. Based on how it regulates your circadian rhythm, you can see its benefits for sleep.
Melatonin may help you get to sleep quicker, as well as sleep longer and deeper. However, it does not function to keep you sleeping. If you tend to wake up in the middle of the night (with stress-related insomnia, for example), taking melatonin may not correct your sleeping concerns. It has been shown to be helpful for jet lag for some people.
Melatonin is a potent antioxidant. It helps your body to produce antioxidant type enzymes (superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, and γ-glutamylcysteine synthetase), which in turn increase antioxidants like glutathione. All of these help your body to reduce oxidative stress (free radicals).
Plus, there are some promising new areas of research that show even more benefits of melatonin, including:
Brain health: One study assessed the benefit of melatonin in 50 sufferers of mild cognitive impairment, a collection of conditions that precedes dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. After giving melatonin 3-9 mg daily at bedtime for 9-18 months to half of the study group, researchers found that the patients taking melatonin had significantly better performance on neuropsychological tests, while also experiencing improvements in sleep quality and wakefulness.
Migraine relief: One study found that migraine sufferers may be able to reduce the frequency and severity of their headaches. Researchers gave 34 migraine sufferers a 3 mg dose of melatonin, 30 minutes before bedtime, for 3 months. Of the 32 patients who finished the study, more than two-thirds experienced at least a 50% reduction in number of headaches per month. Additionally, the intensity and duration of headaches decreased.
Cancer support: Melatonin works synergistically with the body’s own anti-tumor systems and can dramatically decrease adverse effects of conventional treatment. It’s also been shown that when melatonin was given alongside chemotherapy, these subjects had significantly higher 1-year survival and greater tumor regression rates than those who just received chemotherapy alone. In addition, those who supplemented with melatonin experienced fewer episodes of chemotherapy-associated side effects such as low platelet counts, neurotoxicity and cardiotoxicity, and mouth sores.
Heart health: As a cardioprotective nutrient, melatonin can scavenge free radicals that are produced during cardiac injury and increase antioxidant enzymes. In a study of patients with narrowing of their coronary arteries, who are at risk for angina and heart attacks, researchers compared melatonin with conventional medical therapy with Isordil® and also tested the combination of both treatments. Sixty-five patients aged 44-69 were studied by echocardiography to evaluate heart wall motion and function. The findings revealed that patients who received melatonin plus drug treatment had significantly greater increases in heart muscle function than those on drug treatment alone, as well as a beneficial decrease in heart size and increase in the amount of blood actively ejected from the heart with each beat.
GI health: Melatonin reduces stomach injury caused by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), helps heal gastric ulcers, and can alleviate heartburn symptoms. In fact, in one study, researchers gave 175 patients standard treatment with the prescription drug Prilosec®, while 176 received a supplement containing melatonin, its precursor L-tryptophan, and B vitamins, over a 40-day treatment period. All patients in the supplement group reported complete regression of symptoms by the end of the study, compared with only 66% in the drug treated group. And, no significant side effects were reported in the supplemented patients.
Scientists are still investigating the optimal doses of melatonin for various health concerns. Before taking it, please consult with your healthcare practitioner or one of our nutrition experts at Village Green Apothecary to find out the optimal dose for you and to ensure that it will not interfere with any of your medications. We carry many high-quality melatonin supplements in a variety of strengths and different delivery forms, such as liquid, capsule, time-release tablets, and sublingual lozenges. Our Pathway supplement line includes a new product, Pathway Melatonin 10mg, as well.