You’ve probably heard about how taking a melatonin supplement can help you sleep at night or even help you recover from jetlag. But, you might not be aware that there are hundreds of studies on this sleep hormone that demonstrate just what a huge effect it has on many parts of the body, including the brain, stomach and blood.
Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant and reduces inflammation in the body, among other things. Keep reading to learn more about the many ways that melatonin can benefit your body.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a natural hormone present in the body that is synthesized in the pineal gland in the brain and it regulates sleep and wakefulness.
It is derived from the amino acid tryptophan and the neurotransmitter, serotonin. Often called the “sleep hormone”, melatonin increases in our body during the latter part of the day, telling us that it is time to sleep.
Both lipid (fat) and water soluble, melatonin can easily travel throughout the body in the blood, where it affects a number of systems.
Interestingly enough, melatonin is also produced in plants and defends plant cells as an antioxidant and so it is present in a number of foods, including walnuts, bananas cherries, tomatoes, dairy products and even beer, among others.
Melatonin also serves as an antioxidant in humans and has been used to treat a number of health conditions and diseases, including insomnia, Alzheimer’s and depression.
Besides daylight, several other factors can decrease the natural production of melatonin in the body, including aging and blue light from your computer or devices, when used at night.
It can be bought as a supplement in a variety of dosages and it helps the body in many important ways, including:
- Improves eye health
- Improves duration and quality of sleep
- Reduces oxidative stress in the body
- Helps the immune system
- Protects the body from radiation
- And much more
Where do melatonin’s health benefits come from?
1. Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant
Melatonin has several health benefits related to its antioxidizing properties. It increases antioxidant enzymes in the body that maintain health on a cellular level.
Melatonin also binds to reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (ROSs & RNSs), which neutralizes them, making them less harmful. ROSs and RNSs are harmful because they damage cell structure, which includes damage to DNA or RNA.
This type of cellular damage can lead to aging, infertility and even cancer.In this way, melatonin protects the body from oxidative damage. This process takes place in many parts of the body, particularly the eyes, bone marrow, the brain, as well as the digestive and the reproductive organs.
One study in particular showed that one single molecule of melatonin has the power to neutralize up to 10 molecules of ROSs and RNSs. This study describes melatonin as a,kind of “scavenger” that detoxifies the body, one cell at a time.
2. Melatonin protects the mitochondria in cells and inhibits cell death
The mitochondria are the parts of the cell responsible for generating energy. When they produce energy, ROSs (reactive oxygen species) and RNSs (reactive nitrogen species) are its by-products.
As already mentioned above, these ROSs and RNSs damage mitochondrial DNA and proteins, leading to cell death.Melatonin is naturally occurring in the parts of the body that need it the most, including the heart, brain and nervous system.
By acting as an antioxidant, it protects and cleans up the mitochondria of the cells and prevents disease in these parts of the body when present in healthy amounts.
In several studies on toxins that specifically attack the mitochondria of cells, melatonin was shown as an effective protection against these toxins and helped to restore cells to their regular function.
Some of these toxins administered in studies on rats include cyanide, rotenone and MPTP (toxins that imitates the effects of Parkinson’s) and 3-NPA (a toxin that imitates the effects of Huntington’s disease).
3. Melatonin reduces inflammation in the body and helps the immune system
While it is still not completely clear how exactly melatonin regulates immunity, some evidence suggests that it is an immune-stimulant, while other studies suggest it has anti-inflammatory properties.
For example, one study showed that melatonin can reduce the cell oxidation and free radicals in the immune cells specifically related to several neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS, stroke and traumatic brain injuries, among other conditions.
This study showed that melatonin could be an effective treatment of these conditions as it inhibits cell death and detoxifies the damage in cells.
4. Melatonin, sleep & circadian rhythm
Everyone has a natural circadian rhythm, although not everyone’s circadian rhythm is the same. This is why some people are early birds and others are night owls.
But, overall, our circadian rhythm works on a 24-hour cycle and it is what tells us to go to sleep when it gets dark and wake up when it’s light out.
Melatonin is what regulates the body’s circadian rhythm and it is at its lowest throughout the day and peaks in the evening, telling us that it’s time for bed.
Our circadian rhythm can get disrupted, however, from things like travel or pulling an all-nighter and it can take time to get our melatonin levels back to their normal levels.
Top ways in which melatonin benefits your health
Brain Health Benefits of Melatonin
1. Aids brain regeneration and neuroplasticity
Research shows that BDNF, or Brain Derived Neuropathic Factor, a protein that is responsible for the health, wellness and regeneration of nerve cells, is activated by melatonin, leading scientists to conclude that melatonin can improve brain health on the cellular level and help regenerate brain cells.
2. Strengthens blood-brain barrier
Melatonin has been found to strengthen the barrier between the blood and the brain, an important finding that could lead to treatment for traumatic brain injury.
In the study, it was found that melatonin decreased brain oedema, permeability in the brain blood barrier and intracranial pressure, after brain injury.
3. Aids in stroke recovery
As mentioned above, research has found that melatonin could be an effective treatment to reduce brain swelling and brain cell death after suffering a stroke.
The study also found that stroke patients who were treated with melatonin did not have to be intubated as long and had shorter hospital stays.
4. Helps those with Alzheimer’s disease
Melatonin is largely decreased in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and about 45 percent of patients have problems with sleep.
There have been several studies that show that melatonin can be beneficial to patients suffering from Alzheimer’s. In one, patients had a significant improvement to sleep quality after taking melatonin daily for 22 to 35 months.
In another, 7 out of 10 patients were observed to have decreased instances of sundowning, or late day confusion and agitation, common to Alzheimer’s patients.
5. Helps treat Parkinson’s Disease
Sleep disorders are also common for sufferers of Parkinson’s disease and new research is showing that timed-release melatonin might help patients sleep and it may also slow the course of the disease.
Melatonin also seems to help patients have less symptoms or less severe symptoms than those who do not take it.
Although more studies are needed, initial findings on the effect of melatonin on patients suffering from epilepsy are positive.
Its anticonvulsant properties were observed on audiogenic and electrical seizures, as well as reduced convulsions in induced seizures, brought on by specific drugs.
However, the high dosage of melatonin necessary to inhibit seizures came with its own set of side effects in the study and so more work is needed to see how exactly melatonin effects seizures and if it can be used in a helpful way to prevent or treat seizures at their onset.
7. Helps those with ALS
In a very interesting piece of research, scientists have found that a lack of melatonin is associated with the progression of ALS in animal studies.
The study, out of the Pitt School of Medicine, showed that compared to mice that did not receive treatment, mice that were given melatonin developed ALS symptoms later, survived longer and had less motor neuron degeneration in the spinal cord.
This is just further evidence to suggest that melatonin is neuroprotective and could be a therapeutic treatment for sufferers of ALS.
Sleep Benefits of Melatonin
8. Helps with jetlag and other sleep disorders
Studies have shown that melatonin is an effective treatment for jet lag, particularly when travelling east, as it resets the body’s sleep-awake schedule.
However, in order for it to be effective, the time in which one takes melatonin is very important and it depends on the direction you travel.
For example, if you travel east, you should take it at the local bedtime for a few days, until you are adjusted, but if you are travelling west and trying to set your internal clock to an earlier time, you should take melatonin in the morning.
Melatonin has also proved effective as treatment for sleep disorders in the blind and those with insomnia.
9. Might improve sleep quality
Prolonged-release melatonin has been shown as an effective treatment for insomnia patients, aged 55 years and older and it was found to also have no withdrawal effects.In the study, it both greatly improved sleep quality and daytime alertness.
There has been a small amount of evidence to suggest that melatonin can improve sleep quality and duration in those who undertake shift work, although the research is considered of low quality and more research is needed.
10. Helps those with anxiety, depression and bipolar
Issues with sleep are common in those with anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder, but research on the effects of melatonin on such people has been promising.
Patients with generalized anxiety disorder, who were given the drug Ramelteon for ten weeks had a significant reduction of symptoms, overall.They also fell asleep quicker and slept longer.
Ramelteon is a drug that binds to and activates melatonin receptors in the brain and is known as a synthetic melatonin analogue.There is also a small amount of evidence to suggest that melatonin could also be used to treat depression, although more research is needed.
In one study, conducted in the year 2000, 8 adults between the ages of 22 and 73 with treatment resistant depression were prescribed melatonin.
Overall, they had a 20 percent reduction of symptoms, which is not overly significant but suggests that further work needs to be done, on a larger scale, to
determine if melatonin can be beneficial.
Other Health Benefits of Melatonin
11. Helps with ear problems, like tinnitus
In perhaps what is one of the most surprising and hopeful pieces of research mentioned on our list, melatonin was found to be 150 times more effective at decreasing tinnitus symptoms than other drugs designed to treat the condition.
12. Helps maintain eye health and vision
The eyes are one region of the body that produces melatonin, depending on how much light these cells are exposed to.
Melatonin is a key component for the development of eyes and a shortage of melatonin in early development can cause vision problems.
Melatonin has also been shown to protect eye cells from cell death and help with eye diseases, like glaucoma, by decreasing pressure in the eyes, when tested in mice.
In fact, it is believed that disturbances in melatonin production might be one of the causes of glaucoma.
13. May protect against diabetes
New evidence is suggesting that the natural decrease in melatonin as one ages could be linked to the development of type 2 diabetes.
A U.S. study showed that women with low levels of melatonin had more than twice the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, even after body weight and diet were taken into consideration.
While researchers involved in this study were quick to say that they are not saying melatonin is an effective treatment for diabetes, another study brings this up as a possibility.
In it, rats with diabetes who were treated with melatonin had improved protection of muscle cells from a toxin that causes insulin resistance. In another, it improved liver health and function in diabetic overweight rats.
While the correlation between melatonin and type 2 diabetes is not yet fully understood and more research is needed, it’s clear there is an association and it also suggests that melatonin may a role in glucose metabolism.
14. Helps heart health
Mounting evidence suggests that melatonin can protect the heart through its anti-inflammatory properties, help reduce blood pressure and lower cholesterol.
As an antioxidant, melatonin could also be an effective tool in the prevention of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.While there is some conflicting evidence and more research is needed, there has been observed low levels of melatonin in patients with heart disease.
Whether this is due to patient age and the natural decline in melatonin or other factors, this is unclear. Future studies should prove more conclusive but it looks promising.
15. Protects the stomach
Several studies suggest that low melatonin levels in the stomach could be related to stomach issues, like GERD, heartburn and ulcers.
One study from Poland in 2013 showed that melatonin levels in patients with GERD and recurrent ulcers was lower than in healthy individuals.
It also showed that lower melatonin levels was related to the onset and progression of many stomach conditions. This suggests that melatonin supplementation could help these conditions.
Other studies have shown that melatonin is very effective at treating GERD and heartburn and in another, it reduced the size of a very large ulcer in one patient until it completely disappeared.
It is believed that the reason why melatonin has such an effect on these conditions is that it strengthens the lower esophageal sphincter, helping it to block acid from entering the oesophagus.
16. Helps with aging
As we have already mentioned, melatonin has huge power as an antioxidant and combats cell-damaging free radicals. In fact, melatonin has 200 percent more antioxidant power than vitamin E and is better than vitamins C and E in reducing oxidative damage.
This also makes it an excellent combatant against age-related diseases caused by free radical damage, such as heart disease and cancer and others, such as macular degeneration and glaucoma.
17. May help prevent and treat cancer
New research suggests that melatonin may also have anticarcinogenic properties, meaning that it has the ability to fight cancer cells and prevent those cancer cells from forming in the first place.
This is also related to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant properties and studies have shown that it has induced cancer cell death in patients suffering from the disease.Melatonin has also been shown to slow the disease progression and decrease treatment side effects in patients with advanced stage cancers.
In patients who took 20 mg of melatonin once a day, as compared to those who had only conventional cancer treatment, complete or partial remission was improved by nearly 50 percent
.It also increased the one-year survival rate by 45 percent and decreased fatigue caused by treatment by 65 percent. There are many more studies with such positive results and more research is needed.
18. Might help with fertility
A recent study from the University of Texas Health Center in San Antonio suggest that fertility is optimized with healthy melatonin levels and that the antioxidant nature of melatonin is important for ovarian health, leading to healthy egg production.
Another piece of research out of Japan further supports this, by showing that melatonin increased egg quality in a study of 115 women by reducing the level of an oxidizing agent in the ovum. Melatonin also delays ovarian aging.
Since melatonin also controls body temperature and female reproductive hormones, including the onset of puberty and the frequency and duration of menstrual cycles, it is clear that there are many ways in which a healthy melatonin level could support fertility and help women conceive.
19. Helps stop hair loss
Melatonin has not only proved beneficial as an oral supplement, but also as a topical treatment for hair loss, both in hair loss related to aging and in medical conditions, like alopecia.
One study on 30 men and women showed a significant reduction in alopecia after both 30 and 90-day observations, with a 29 percent and 41 percent increase in hair density recorded, respectively.
It was also seen to help patients suffering from dermatitis of the scalp.While the results of these studies are hopeful and many of them even exciting, we must also be cautious about self-medicating with melatonin.
There are few regulations as to the dosage of melatonin and many supplements contain large amounts that far exceed the recommended daily dosage.
Not only is efficacy diminished or at least not increased by taking a larger dosage, the side effects may also increase. Melatonin may also interact with other medications you are taking, such as birth control, so it is always better to consult a physician for recommendations.
While drug stores might sell dosages as high as 5 mg or more, most authorities suggest that the smallest dosages are the most effective and many recommend no more than 0.3-0.5 mg in healthy individuals.