Regular readers of this newsletter will recall that my team has written quite a few articles on how getting enough sleep is critical to our health and well-being. Insufficient sleep can drain your energy, lower productivity and increase the risk of diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, dementia and even cancer.
Melatonin is a hormone that regulates your internal body clock, signaling bedtime is near. For a variety of reasons our bodies can be low on this hormone that’s produced in the brain’s pineal gland. So, it’s no wonder that melatonin has become a popular supplement for the sleep starved.
You’ve probably heard about this mighty sleep hormone, but did you know that shut-eye is just one of its important benefits?
I recently came across some interesting research on melatonin. It seems it has caught the eye of scientists who are discovering it may help with heart disease and diabetes, as well as other age-related diseases.
Experts have long known that melatonin production wanes with age.1 In turn, this decline contributes to not only the aging process, but also a deterioration of good health.2
For many years, scientists remained uncertain about the actual mechanisms behind melatonin’s anti-aging powers. But science marches on, and now there’s a growing body of evidence drilling down on melatonin’s role in combating the aging process.
Here are my top three findings:
#1 Defends against free radicals
Since its discovery some 50 years ago, melatonin’s antioxidant properties have been of special interest to scientists. It turns out that melatonin posseses 200 percent more antioxidant power than vitamin E.3And, as if that wasn’t impressive enough, melatonin is superior to mega antioxidant glutathione and vitamins C and E in reducing oxidative damage.4 That makes this hormone a superhero when it comes to fighting free-radical diseases of all kinds.
There are some unexpected areas where melatonin shows its antioxidant might. The first one is the way it can help lower the risk of eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD).5
In one study, researchers asked 100 AMD sufferers to take three mg of melatonin over six to 24 months. They found that daily melatonin supplementation helped protect the retinas and delay damage from AMD.6 (That’s a big dose. More on this later.)
In another study, scientists put melatonin to the test for the treatment of stomach ulcers and heartburn. They found that when melatonin was coupled with Omeprazole (a common GERD medication) participants’ stomach ulcers healed faster.7 (Another note: We don’t recommend GERD medications.)
#2 Heart helper
During the past decade, researchers have taken a long hard look at melatonin as a cardio-protective nutrient. Animal studies reveal melatonin’s antioxidant power protects against heart muscle injury by reducing damage suffered after a heart attack.8
In human studies, researchers found melatonin can decrease total cholesterol and LDL levels and increase HDL cholesterol levels.9
#3 Delays Alzheimer’s Disease
Another quality of melatonin is its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. And it turns out that its antioxidant power is especially valuable in fighting nervous system and neurodegenerative diseases.10
In particular, melatonin can help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and help protect vital cellular structures from oxidative damage and decay. Interestingly, while melatonin may be beneficial in earlier stages of Alzheimer’s disease, it is much less effective in late stage Alzheimer’s.11
It’s commonly known that melatonin levels dip as you age. Before reaching for a supplement, I encourage you to kickstart your own melatonin production the natural way. It’s easy. Simply get sun exposure in the morning, which appears to trigger melatonin production at night, just when you need it most. Then, at night avoid looking at screened devices for an hour or two before bedtime, and make sure your bedroom is completely dark during your sleep time.
If you want to try a supplement, start small, with the lowest dose (0.5 milligrams). You’ll also want to take it within 30 minutes of bedtime. Many supplement brands contain far more than that, so you need to take care. If needed, work up slowly to a higher dose until you find what helps your sleep – and then stop. More is not better.
While this supplement is typically well tolerated, there’s potential for mild side effects such as headache, nausea and dizziness, especially when combined with other medications. Insomnia can also occur at high doses.
Also, keep in mind that taking a melatonin supplement for an extended period of time has been shown to further lower your body’s natural production of this hormone. I’d advise not using it for the long-term unless you’re under the care of a trusted medical professional.
Many people will be able to boost their levels, as I suggested above, by exposure to sun during the day time and to pitch blackness at night while sleeping. The pills are a last resort.
- Iguchi H, Kato K-I, Ibayashi H. Age-dependent reduction in serum melatonin concentrations in
healthy human subjects.J ClinEndocrinoloMetab. 1982;55:27-29.
- Reiter RJ, Tan DX, Mayo JC, Sainz RM, Lopez-BurilloS . Melatonin, longevity and health in the
aged: an assessment. Free Radic Res. 2002 Dec;36(12):1323-9.
- Sofic E, Rimpapa Z, Kundurovic Z, et al. Antioxidant capacity of the neurohormone melatonin.
J Neural Transm. 2005;112:349-58
- Reiter RJ, Paredes SD, Korkmaz A, Jou MJ, Tan DX. Melatonin combats molecular terrorism
at the mitochondrial level. InterdiscipToxicol. 2008 Sep;1(2):137-49.
- Reiter RJ, Tan DX, Paredes SD, Fuentes-Broto L. Beneficial effects of melatonin in cardiovascular
disease. Ann Med. 2010 May 6;42(4):276-85.
- Wakatsuki A, Okatani Y, Ikenoue N, et al. Melatonin inhibits oxidative modification of low-density
lipoprotein particles in normolipidemic post-menopausal women. J Pineal Res. 2000;28:136-42.
- Bonnefont-Rousselot D, Collin F. Melatonin: action as antioxidant and potential applications in
human disease and aging. Toxicology. 2010 Nov 28;278(1):55-67.
- Cardinali DP, Furio AM, Brusco LI. Clinical aspects of melatonin intervention in Alzheimer’s
disease progression. CurrNeuropharmacol. 2010 Sep;8(3):218-27.