What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone like substance that is found in all forms of life on earth. In humans, it is produced mainly by the pineal gland, a gland about the size of a pea, which is located in the center of the brain, but also in the stomach and in the eye. The secretion of Melatonin occurs during the night, as a response to darkness, and it peaks in the middle of the night, and then gradually falls during the second half of the night. The synthesis and release of Melatonin is inhibited by light. For this reason Melatonin has also been called “the Hormone of Darkness”. The secretion of Melatonin peaks in puberty, after which it rapidly decreases, and very often people over 50 secret only one tenth of the of the amount secreted in puberty.
Melatonin is rapidly metabolized, chiefly in the liver and it is excreted in the urine. It is both a fat- and water- soluble hormone. The risk of overdosing Melatonin is therefore minimal.
Melatonin secretion declines with age. As we get older, the pineal gland rapidly wears out, due to an excessive build up of calcium, which is known as calcification. The levels of Melatonin produced by the pineal gland are abundant in children, peak slightly before puberty, and decrease steadily thereafter into old age.
What does Melatonin Do?
Melatonin serves many roles in our body; it regulates the body clock and the secretion of other important bodily hormones, governing the aging process; it enhances sleep, regulating the bodies internal clock and counteracts insomnia and jet lag, boosts the immune system, acts as an antioxidant to fight free radicals, improves mental deficiency in Alzheimer’s disease, improves joint function in arthritis and influences the reproductive and cardiovascular systems. Melatonin also improves overall health when aging and relieves symptoms of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). In test tube studies, Melatonin has slowed the growth of several different kinds of human Cancer cells, including breast and prostate Cancer cells.
Melatonin has been shown to be an extremely potent and wide-ranging antioxidant, protecting every part of the cell and every cell in the body, including vital brain cells. Antioxidants are vital to our health because they rid the body of dangerously reactive molecules called free radicals. Over 100 diseases have now been linked with free radical damage, including Cataracts, Macular Degeneration, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, Arthritis, Cancer and the Aging Process itself.
Supplemental Melatonin & Its Benefits
Supplemental Melatonin must be synthetically produced. It is identical to the naturally occurring hormone and has many benefits. “Natural Melatonin” should be avoided at all costs as it may contain harmful impurities.
What are the Benefits of Supplemental Melatonin?
• Insomnia/jet lag
Taking supplemental Melatonin has been shown to be an effective remedy for insomnia, shiftwork maladaptation and jet lag. Jet lag occurs in airline passengers after flights across time zones. It is characterized by sleep disturbances, daytime fatigue, and reduced mental efficiency.
According to Patrick Quilin, Ph.D., R.D., C.N.S., Vice President of Nutrition for Cancer Treatment Centers of America: “…thirty million Americans are chronically sleep deprived … five million of these suffer from insomnia … people who sleep less than six hours each night are in poorer health and have a 70 percent higher mortality rate.”
• SAD victims
Melatonin has been shown to be effective in victims with SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is caused by the breakdown of the circadian/body-clock rhythm.
• On the Immune System
Melatonin buffers the effects of stress and reduces the gradual decline of immunity that accompanies stress. Researchers have demonstrated Melatonin’s ability to treat Cancer, slow progression of AIDS, make the body more resistant to colds, and protect the immune system from the toxic effects of chemotherapy. Numerous studies reveal that supplemental Melatonin can restore thymus gland function, boost immune function by increasing the production of T-cells, important to our natural defenses, and increase the body’s anti-tumor activity, particularly in advanced Cancer patients.
Melatonin also shows promise as a treatment for a number of other diseases and conditions, including Hypertension, high Cholesterol, various kinds of Cancer, Autism, Epilepsy, Migraine, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and Alzheimer’s disease.
• Longevity/Anti-Aging/Quality of Life
Melatonin has strong anti-aging properties. According to the experts, Melatonin has many vital functions in our body therefore prolonging our life span. It is considered to be “The Policeman of all Policemen”, regulating the secretion of other important bodily hormones, governing the body at large and of course also the important aging process. Many people take supplemental Melatonin every day for this purpose rather than for insomnia/sleep deprivation conditions. In such cases a dosage of 0.5-1 mg is normally enough.
• Melatonin in Cancer
Although the results from the clinical studies using Melatonin in treatment of Cancer are not conclusive as of yet, the indications are, that it may be very helpful in treating Cancer taken in conjunction with traditional treatments like chemotherapy and radiation, as a support for the immune system. Whether the effect is from its antioxidant properties or not, or because of other mechanisms of Melatonin, is not quite clear at this time. More research is needed in humans. Several clinical studies are on-going world wide in regards to Melatonin in conjunction with treatment of cancer.
Melatonin is safe to use
No serious side effects or risks have been reported in association with taking supplemental Melatonin in recommended doses (see below). Melatonin is one of the least toxic substances known. The only consistent side effect of high doses has been drowsiness and a slower reaction time.
Steven Block, M.D., author of “Stay Young the Melatonin Way”, quoted in Newsweek, has given Melatonin to 300 patients, and has never seen a bad reaction”.
Melatonin vs. Conventional Drugs for Sleep
In contrast to conventional drugs that can bring on sleep, supplemental Melatonin in appropriate doses induces physiological and natural sleep and helps to reset the body clock. It affects how quickly one falls asleep, the duration, and the quality of the sleep, and helps to reset the body’s time clock - the so-called circadian rhythm.
There is no evidence that Melatonin is habit forming or induces use-dependence. The drawbacks to conventional drugs however, are countless: they suppress the restorative dream state known as REM, lose their effect over time, and are addictive if used too often, have a “hang over” effect, and at high doses-they can kill you.
What is the Recommended Intake?
Melatonin researchers themselves have yet to determine the optimum doses for various usages/indications. Individual needs also vary depending on differences in metabolism.
Although the risk of overdosing on Melatonin is very small, not to say nonexistent, (Melatonin is water soluble and excess is excreted in the urine, much in the same way as excess of Vitamin C is) - 2000 times (6 grams!) the recommended dosage was given to women in a clinical study for long periods of time (9 months), without any apparent side effects - more than 6mg is seldom necessary. Younger healthier individuals taking Melatonin on a regular basis as an anti-aging regulator etc., probably only need 0.5-1 mg daily; for sleep disorders/jet lag 1-3 mgs seems to be adequate dosage and for elderly people, people with grave sleep disorders and people with diagnosed disease states, a dosage of 3-6 mg is normally adequate.
When should Melatonin be taken?
Always take Melatonin at night. Do not take Melatonin during the day unless advised by your health practitioner, or physician. Taking Melatonin during the day can have some unwanted effects, including resetting your body clock, giving you unintentional jet lag, or making you drowsy and increasing your risk of accidental injury.