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MELATONIN

Do you ever wonder why we sleep at night, and wake up in the morning? Or how come some of us cannot sleep with lights on?  Blame it on melatonin! Melatonin is actually a hormone that circulates around the body.  It is secreted by an organ called the pineal gland, located at the center of our brain.   The secretion of melatonin is stimulated by dark, and barred by light. This is the reason why melatonin is sometimes called as the hormone of darkness.  It regulates man’s circadian rhythm, or his sleep-wake cycle, by releasing melatonin that causes a person to feel drowsy.  The results of a study published in Hormone Research on Pediatrics showed that babies have high melatonin levels from 12 midnight to 8 o’clock in the morning. This explains why they usually sleep around this time.

But melatonin is not just about the sleep-wake cycle.  Researchers have shown that it also has neuroprotective mechanisms, anti-aging capabilities and, the most raved about potential, the ability to lower the risk of cancer.

Melatonin’s Neuroprotective Mechanisms

Its neuroprotective mechanism helps protect the brain from degradation which causes neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.  Occurrences of these diseases are pointed towards the damage being done by the free radicals – toxic substances that are by products of metabolic processes.  As it increases in the body’s circulation, it has the tendency to damage the structures of our cells, whether protein or fat cells, causing alterations in the architecture of the genes.  For the common neurological disorders, free radicals tend to cause stress in the neural mitochondria.

The Journal on Behavioral and Brain Functions published a study that showed that people who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease have lower levels of melatonin.  As the researchers tried to increase the melatonin intake of people with the said conditions through supplemental melatonin, there was a lowering of the oxidation process in the cellular mitochondria.  It also exhibited some protection against the effects of free radicals in the integrity of the cell’s structure, especially to those who are at the early stage of the disease.  This evidence is an indication that melatonin protects the neurons from further deterioration caused by aging – and if it protects neurons, it also protects all other cells.

How it Affects Aging

Aging brings changes in many of our body’s structure resulting to changes in functions.  Inside every cell are structures, like the endoplasmic reticulum, that are responsible for the creation of protein and fat molecules that keep the cell functioning.  However, as we age, this structure of the cell deteriorates through inflammatory processes and disables the production of important molecules that combats and keeps the production of free radicals at bay, thus, resulting to the aging process.

In a study conducted by the Neuroimmunophysiology Research Group, researchers said that increasing the level of melatonin will decrease the inflammation of the cells, thereby decreasing the free radicals in the body, which will eventually increase and stabilize the capacity of each endoplasmic reticulum that will help slow down the death of the cells and slow down the process of aging.

Melatonin’s Role in Cancer Prevention

The powers of melatonin, however, are more pronounced in its capability to lower the risk of cancer.  In an observational study, melatonin has shown to scavenge free radicals and eliminate them from the system. Free radicals, of course, are the bad guys as it tries to delete the genetic make-up of the cells.  Some of our genes controls the sizes, shapes and characters of cells.  When these genes are altered due to the effects of free radicals, the cells changes its nature, therefore becoming what is popularly known as cancer.  The results of ten studies made and published in the Journal of Pineal Research have shown that there is a 34 percent reduction in the risk of developing different types of cancer.  Melatonin is indeed a potent antioxidant as a scavenger of byproducts of the oxidation process called free radicals.

Benefits

There are still other benefits that one can derive from melatonin. Although most of them are still being studied, it provides us with hope for the potential advantages of melatonin.

  • Aside from its anti-aging, anti-cancer and neuroprotective capabilities, it also can help people with sleep-deprivation problems.  Senior citizens who have depleted melatonin have difficulty sleeping.  By providing them with melatonin supplements, their circadian rhythm tends to improve.  This is also true for schizophrenics and for those who are experiencing jet lags and who cannot sleep well.  There is also some evidence of its benefits for sleeping problems caused by menopause. Furthermore, people who are withdrawing from the use of diazepam, alprazolam and lorazepam complains of having difficulty in sleeping. When these people take in melatonin supplements, they reported that their sleep quality improved.
  • For children who are suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sleep problems are solved by melatonin intake but behavioral problems stays the same.
  • For evidences related to its anti-cancer properties, studies made in women who have breast cancer shows that they have low levels of melatonin.  When melatonin was taken by these women, results showed that the growth of cancer cells is repressed.
  • Further studies were also made on its effect with chemotherapy. For those undergoing chemotherapy, the side effect of lowered platelets is repressed. Furthermore, as shown in the research, there is a potentiating effect in 28 percent of women taking the drug tamoxifen if it is taken together with melatonin.
  • Men with prostate cancer have lower levels of melatonin.  For those who are taking melatonin, 9 out of 14 men with prostate cancer exhibited improved survival rates What is interesting though is that meditation has shown to increase the levels of melatonin in the body.  More research studies are still on-going regarding the beneficial effects of melatonin.

Natural Sources of Melatonin

The Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements has not indicated food sources that will elevate the melatonin levels in human plasma. However, animals which eat food sources rich in melatonin have shown an increase in plasma melatonin levels.  Taking a cue from this, researchers tried to identify melatonin-rich food sources.

  • The roots of huang-qin, a Chinese herb plant, contain approximately 7,100 ng/g of melatonin.
  • The flowers of St. John’s Wort have 4,390 ng/g; its leaf has 1,750 ng/g.
  • The green leaf of feverfew contains 2,450 ng/g, while its golden leaf has 1,920.
  • The dry leaf of feverfew has more than 7,000ng/g; its fresh leaf only has 1,300 ng/g.
  • The seeds of mustard, wolf berry, fenugreek, alfalfa, sunflower, fennel and cardamom also contain trace amounts of melatonin.

 

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