Melatonin Health Benefits and Melatonin Risks - Paula Owens, MS

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Melatonin Health Benefits

Melatonin Health Benefits - Paula Owens, MS Holistic Nutritionist and Functional Health Practitioner

Melatonin is a hormone that’s secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. It’s essential for quality sleep and healthy sleep-wake cycle. There’s 10-15 times more melatonin in the blood at night compared to the day time. Levels start to increase during the night when it’s dark, reaching the maximum in the early hours between 2am and 4am.

The highest concentration is found in the colon. Your gut has 400 times more melatonin than the pineal gland! Other than the gut and the pineal gland, it is also produced in the retina, skin, bone marrow and white blood cells.

Melatonin Health Benefits

Research suggests melatonin protects against viral and bacterial infections, reduces oxidative stress, lowers inflammation, slows down the aging process, increases healing after surgery, improves menopausal symptoms, and enhances brain function as we age.

Sleep has been described as our most powerful anti-oxidant, anti-aging, detox, repair and anti-inflammatory agent. Studies have shown that melatonin helps individuals fall asleep quicker, remain asleep, and prevent fatigue during the day.

• Cortisol buffer. Think of melatonin and cortisol like yin and yang. Melatonin (the yin) helps us relax and repair, and cortisol (the yang) keeps us alert, awake, on edge and depletes this valuable hormone.

High cortisol blocks or lowers the production of thyroid hormones, (particularly free T3, while increasing reverse T3), estrogen and progesterone, growth hormone and melatonin. Over time if the adrenals no longer continue high output, cortisol will decrease. Interestingly, low cortisol can hinder the conversion of serotonin to melatonin and cause sleep difficulty and high cortisol will cause melatonin levels to drop as well. Remember, when your body is in a state of fight or flight and “cortisol rules,” and your immune system is compromised.

• Healthy GI function. Decreased melatonin secretion is associated with increased intestinal permeability aka leaky gut and a marker of endotoxemia in alcoholics. [Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2015 Jun 15;308(12)]

Melatonin has been repeatedly shown to reduce symptoms of GERD, irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis, and prevent and heal gastric ulcers. It lessens gallbladder inflammation and inhibits gallstone formation by decreasing biliary levels of cholesterol and increasing the conversion of cholesterol into bile salts

• Heartburn. While it has a reputation as a sleep aid, melatonin can also be used to treat heartburn. Your gastrointestinal tract (GI) makes melatonin, secreting up to 500 times as much your pineal gland. Because melatonin serves many functions in the GI system, it is often used to treat digestive issues like ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome. Supplementing may alleviate symptoms of heartburn. Given the serious side effects associated with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), it could be a safer alternative for heartburn sufferers.

• Stronger immune function by protecting against viral and bacterial infections.

Protects against mitochondrial toxins, reduces inflammation, and lessens oxidative damage by shielding the brain and central nervous system from free radicals and oxidative stress removing toxins from the brain such as mercury, aluminum, cadmium, viruses, parasites and bacteria at night during deep sleep.

Melatonin has a modulating effect for inflammatory cytokines like Th17, TNF-alpha and NF-kappa B — it’s a potent antioxidant the brain uses to heal itself, which is especially helpful in reducing inflammation with any type of brain trauma.

• Cancer prevention. Protects against breast, prostate, testicular, ovarian and endometrial cancer, and suppresses the growth of breast cancer tumors. Several researchers have used melatonin as an adjunct with chemotherapy, and found it reduces side effects and increases the effectiveness of chemo as well.

According to Dr. Sara Gottfried, MD, melatonin lowers excess estrogen and may prevent breast cancer. Low levels have been linked to other estrogen dependent cancers.

• Oral health. An increase in melatonin in the saliva protects periodontal function, and is useful for treatment of bacterial, fungi and viral infections of the oral mucosa and periodontal diseases, oral cancer and wounds from tooth extraction. There are some studies reporting that melatonin enhances the success of dental implant procedures.

A study published in the Journal of Pineal Research showed that melatonin was very effective in preventing cataracts and supporting healthy vision.

• Melatonin is important in maintaining the endothelium (the lining of the blood vessel), which can help to lower high blood pressure.

• Less dependence on benzodiazepines drugs without major side effects; and beneficial at reducing the metabolic side effects of antipsychotic drugs.

• Beneficial as an anti-aging therapy for age-related bone loss. Poor sleep quality leads to an increase in the activity of osteoclasts (the cells that break down bone).

Reduced occurrence of migraine attacks and cluster headaches, and helpful for tinnitus.

• Counteracts age-induced cognitive decline, slows down brain aging and more! Melatonin can limit the severity of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancer. In the 2013 Journal of Pineal Research, scientists reported that it has metabolic benefits in treating diabetes and hyperlipidemia.

Melatonin disruptors

Before contemplating supplementation, consider nutrition, diet, environment, and your lifestyle

  • Lack of early morning sunlight and natural light exposure during the day
  • Adrenal insufficiency and excess cortisol = major melatonin disruption
  • Blue light at night from screens and bright artificial light at night. Shift work, jet lag
  • Poor vision, eye problems
  • Sleeping in a bedroom that is not completely dark
  • Electromagnetic pollution, dirty electricity, nnEMFs and EMR. The pineal gland is highly sensitive to nnEMFs, and chronic exposure to electromagnetic pollution via WiFi, Bluetooth, EMR and EMFs suppress nighttime melatonin secretion.
  • Mouth breathing, sleep apnea
  • Tryptophan deficiency and the other co-factors needed to make serotonin
  • Exercising at night may cause melatonin to drop. Night time physical exercise can blunt the nocturnal surge of melatonin, probably due to cortisol spikes.
  • Psychological factors such as depression, panic attacks, dementia and seasonal affect disorder shunt melatonin production
  • Poor diet, caffeine and alcohol have been shown to impair melatonin production
  • Nutrient deficiencies, specifically magnesium and B vitamins reduce melatonin levels
  • Prescription drugs including beta blockers, hypertension and heart medications, benzos, anti-psychotic medications, anti-anxiety drugs, and even short-term use of OTC drugs including aspirin, ibuprofen, Tylenol, pain relievers, NSAIDs
  • Another indirect factor for reduced melatonin many people fail to recognize is pesticide and glyphosate exposure, and other toxic chemicals we’re exposed to (knowingly and unknowingly).  Chemical toxins accumulate overtime, stimulating cortisol and raising cellular inflammation, which increase glutamate resulting in a decrease of both melatonin and serotonin.

Impaired detoxification. The brain has its own internal detoxing system called the glymphatic system that turns on when we’re asleep and clears away toxins and waste products that could be responsible for neurological disorders and brain diseases like Alzheimer’s. The glymphatic system is 10 times more active during sleep compared to when you’re awake.

How to Increase Melatonin Naturally

Like other hormones, levels decline as we age even if we’re doing all the right things.

Here’s how to increase your production of melatonin naturally

  • Dim the lights earlier in the evening after sundown. I love Himalayan salt lamps (actually have mine on all day and night until bed)
  • Go to bed no later than 10pm and sleep in a room that is pitch dark
  • If you work indoors in an office environment, work in close proximity to a window to provide your body with some exposure to sunlight.
  • Relaxation, meditation, therapeutic belly breathing and practicing these de-stressing techniques have been shown to lower stress hormones, and in turn increase melatonin naturally
  • Consider nutrients that facilitate the natural production of melatonin such as magnesium and vitamin B12 (necessary co-factors for melatonin production)
  • 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin, and serotonin will convert to melatonin if the co-factors vitamin B6, vitamin C, zinc and magnesium are present.
  • No electronics, artificial bright lights, blue light at night or screens 2 hours before bedtime. Put those screens away at night. If you’re staring at a screen after 8pm, wear blue blocking glasses and use blue light filter apps on your devices. A University of Houston study reported that “Study participants, ages 17-42 who wore short wavelength-blocking glasses three hours before bedtime for two weeks while still performing their nightly digital routine showed a 58% increase in their nighttime melatonin levels.”
  • Use food as medicine: tart cherries, walnuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, tomatoes, fennel and the spices cardamom and coriander
  • Spend time in nature and go camping without your smartphone or tablet
  • Regular sun exposure will trigger the generation of melatonin inside your mitochondria. During the day, go outdoors and get a healthy dose of daily sunlight. When people are exposed to sunlight in the morning, their nocturnal production of melatonin occurs sooner, and they enter into sleep more easily at night.

Melatonin Supplementation

It’s best to start with a smaller dose taken one to two hours before bedtime, and see how your body responds. Doses of 1.5 to 3 mg at night are safe and effective allowing your body a chance to use the supplement, yet still make its own production. Listen to your body, and if you start feeling more alert, you’ve likely taken too much and need to lower your dose.

As a caveat, some people feel sluggish after taking melatonin. Pulsing small amounts and reducing the dose further generally takes care of that.

Precautions, Risks and Contraindications

  • Melatonin should not be taken during pregnancy, while breastfeeding or if you’re trying to conceive
  • Those with mental illness, depression and epilepsy should avoid supplemental melatonin
  • High dose melatonin downregulates the thyroid
  • Not recommended while working around machinery, heavy equipment of while driving
  • Do not take if your glucose levels are high without consulting your medical provider or practitioner
  • High doses can temporarily shut down the reproductive system, disrupt circadian rhythms, cause grogginess, nightmares, vivid dreams, dizziness, nausea, stomach cramps, decreased libido, and shrink male gonads.
  • Do not take if taking steroid medication, immunosuppressants, MAO inhibitors, anticoagulants, sedative drugs, oral contraceptives or diabetes medication.
  • Always seek the counsel and guidance of a medical professional or practitioner prior to taking hormones, OTC drugs, and many off-the-shelf remedies (some can cause more metabolic and mitochondrial damage than good!)

You’ll be hearing more about the power of melatonin in the years to come, but for now…  a good night’s sleep, cortisol and inflammation reduction, immune modulation, and increases in cognitive protection are some reasons to consider melatonin.

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