The Many Health Benefits of Melatonin

Melatonin is well known for its role as a natural sleep aid, but its health benefits do not stop there. Because of its high antioxidant levels, melatonin is used for many purposes. It has been shown to protect against migraines, cognitive disorders, stroke, and even cancer. Low melatonin levels have been linked to agitation, confusion, and disrupted sleep. Here is why you should supplement with melatonin on a nightly basis.

What is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland. It is responsible for making you feel sleepy at nighttime. Your brain produces melatonin when it gets dark and it is released into your bloodstream so that you can fall asleep. The brain stops making melatonin in the morning when it becomes light out. Melatonin levels peak at night and are barely present during the day (1).

Light exposure is the main factor in influencing melatonin levels. Even blue light emitted from a digital screen from your television or your smartphone can signal your brain to stop making melatonin. Shutting down electronic devices several hours before bedtime is a good way to keep your melatonin production going throughout the night.

Health Benefits of Melatonin

Melatonin is one of the best natural sleep aid supplements that there is. Research shows that melatonin can help people who have a disrupted internal sleep cycle. It can also improve the sleep quality of individuals who have low levels of melatonin.

According to a 2012 study, patients with insomnia over the age of 55 may benefit from taking a melatonin supplement. Results found that patients who took a melatonin supplement two hours before bed had improved sleep quality and length compared to those who received a placebo. The melatonin test group stated that they were more alert in the morning and they also reported having an improved quality of life. There was no tolerance, rebound insomnia, withdrawal symptoms or dependence linked to taking melatonin (2).

In addition to helping you sleep, melatonin has the following health benefits:

  1. Melatonin is a potent antioxidant.

Melatonin is high in antioxidants, which are needed to neutralize free radical toxins that cause inflammation and disease. In fact, melatonin is 200 times more potent of  an antioxidant than vitamin E (3). It is also superior to the antioxidants vitamins C and E when it comes to reducing oxidative damage (4).

One study found that melatonin inhibits free radical fat cell damage, which lowers cholesterol and decreases the risk of heart disease (3). Another study found that supplementing with melatonin decreases oxidative stress, which reduces skin damage and aging (5). Research supports using melatonin to fight off age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, sepsis, and acute respiratory distress syndrome (6)(7)(8)(9).

  1. Melatonin has neuroprotective properties.

Unlike other supplements, melatonin crosses the blood-brain barrier to deliver antioxidants to brain cells (10). Sadly, melatonin levels decrease with age when they are needed the most. People with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases produce very low levels of melatonin.

Approximately half of all people with Alzheimer’s disease suffer from sleep problems. They also experience agitation and confusion, especially later in the evening (11). Supplementing with melatonin has been shown to improve sleep and aggravation in people with Alzheimer’s disease by protecting brain cells from a toxic protein called beta-amyloid (11). Melatonin supplementation may also improve sleep efficiency in people with Parkinson’s disease.

Melatonin has been shown to improve brain damage after a stroke. Animal studies indicated that melatonin supplements offered during a stroke limited brain tissue damage, decreased the number of brain cell deaths, improved behavioral problems, and reduced the risk of dying (12). Additionally, melatonin may help prevent a stroke from occurring in the first place by reducing nighttime blood pressure (13).

  1. Melatonin prevents migraines.

According to one study, melatonin can be used to help treat headaches. The study gave 34 test subjects a 3-gram dose of melatonin 30 minutes before they went to bed for three months. Results showed that more than two-thirds of the 32 subjects who completed the study had at least a 50 percent reduction in the number of headaches they had that month. Researchers believe that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of melatonin were responsible for relieving headaches (14).

  1. Melatonin may help fight cancer.

Melatonin has been shown to combat a broad range of cancers, such as breast, lung, and liver cancers. It can also be used to fight brain tumors (15).

One study found that women with breast cancer who were not responding to tamoxifen demonstrated an improved response to chemotherapy when a melatonin supplement was added to their treatment plan. The women also reported feeling less anxious (16).

Additional research shows that melatonin can be used to fight prostate cancer in aging men. A 2005 study found that prostate cancer cells that were treated with melatonin reduced rate in which they multiplied (17). Another study showed that melatonin supplementation reduced the risk of death from various types of cancer at one year by 34 percent. The study noted that melatonin worked regardless of how much was given. It also pointed out that no side effects were reported (18).

Finally, melatonin may reduce some of the symptoms associated with chemotherapy. Patients with several different forms of cancer were given 20 mg of melatonin a day in addition to their chemotherapy treatment. At the one year mark, subjects who used the melatonin had a higher survival rate. They also had less heart damage, mouth sores, fatigue, and damage to the brain (19).

  1. Melatonin may boost the immune system.

Research shows that melatonin may be able to strengthen the immune system due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. According to a 2013 study, melatonin is an “immune buffer” because it stimulates the immune system during times of acute stress and inflammation (20).

How To Use Melatonin

Studies show that taking melatonin 30 minutes before bed helps improve sleep (21). If you’re taking melatonin for reasons other than for sleep, keep in mind that it may make you tired. Because of this, you may want to take it at night to avoid becoming tired during the day. Always take melatonin as directed by your supplement’s label.

According to WebMD, you may want to avoid taking melatonin with nicotine, illegal drugs, caffeine, alcohol and prescription medications. It also helps to keep a regular sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same time may help melatonin work better (21).

 

References

  1. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/melatonin
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23044640
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15666035
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21218104
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14740000
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21647290
  7. http://applications.emro.who.int/imemrf/Saudi_J_Med_Med_Sci/Saudi_J_Med_Med_Sci_2014_2_3_134_141.pdf
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16399908
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15066049
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16842222
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16399904
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15673559
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3180511/
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15326268
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16366741
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7710954
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15378522
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16207291
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10674014
  20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3645767/
  21. http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/news/20060503/best-time-to-take-melatonin#1

 

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