The Surprising Benefits of Melatonin Beyond Sleep

Melatonin has become an increasingly popular supplement in recent years, with people using it for everything from jet lag to improving sleep quality. But what are the real benefits of melatonin, and how does it work in the body/ Let’s uncover the science behind melatonin and its many potential uses.

Melatonin as a Phytochemical

Melatonin is a growth factor and phytochemical present in plants. While the amounts of melatonin in plants (known as phytomelatonin) are small, consuming phytomelatonin may still be beneficial:

It’s everywhere – melatonin is pervasive in the diet. The thing is, in order to replenish the levels that we’re losing over time we need much more than we can get in a plant-based diet.

Even coffee beans have some of the highest amounts of phytomelatonin. However, it would take extremely high intakes from dietary sources alone to restore optimal melatonin levels in the body.

Melatonin Levels Decline with Age

Melatonin levels start declining around age 20 and continue to drop dramatically as we get older. By ages 60-70, melatonin levels are very low compared to earlier in life.

Along with this age-related melatonin decline, we also see:

  • Decreased immune function
  • Increased inflammation
  • Mitochondrial dysfunction

This may imply a relationship between falling melatonin levels and the aging process itself.

The Role of Melatonin in Mitochondrial Health

The emerging research highlighting melatonin’s role in mitochondrial health. The mitochondria are the “powerhouses” within our cells that produce energy.

Mitochondrial dysfunction is a hallmark of aging and many chronic diseases. Melatonin acts as a powerful antioxidant within mitochondria to help neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative stress.

Animal studies also suggest melatonin may help clear metabolic waste in the brain that accumulates during sleep via the glymphatic system. Enhancing melatonin levels may therefore support both mitochondrial health and brain detoxification pathways.

Melatonin as an Anti-Inflammatory

In addition to its antioxidant properties, melatonin also has profound anti-inflammatory effects. Recent research show the phytomelatonin in plants has 6 times greater anti-inflammatory activity compared to synthetic melatonin.

The Benefits of Phytomelatonin vs Synthetic

Most melatonin supplements are synthetic. However, phytomelatonin derived from plants may be superior due to its higher antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Synthetic forms may also contain contaminants. You could have up to 13 different adulterants in synthetic melatonin actually.

Potential Applications of Melatonin

Given its diverse effects on inflammation, immune function, and mitochondria, researchers are now exploring melatonin’s potential in conditions like:

  • Cancer
  • Autoimmunity
  • Metabolic disease
  • Neurodegenerative disease

mMelatonin may also have benefits for reproductive issues, IBS, and GERD by supporting mitochondrial function.

Synergies with Vitamin D

Dubbing melatonin the “hormone of darkness,” we can make an interesting comparison to vitamin D as the “hormone of light.” Melatonin and vitamin D work together to support circadian rhythms and immune function.

Melatonin may also amplify the effects of vitamin D by binding to vitamin D receptors in cells. Raising melatonin and vitamin D together may therefore offer synergistic benefits.

The Importance of Darkness for Melatonin

While we often focus on getting enough sunlight for vitamin D, complete darkness is crucial for optimal melatonin production. Being exposed to artificial light in the evenings from TV, phones, and computers can dramatically reduce melatonin levels.

Making sure to turn off screens and lights at a consistent time each night supports healthy circadian rhythms and melatonin synthesis. Getting plenty of darkness may be just as important as daylight when it comes to hormone balance.

Melatonin Supplement Recommendations

For those looking to supplement with melatonin, I suggest a low dose of 0.3 mg most closely matches normal physiological levels. Higher doses do not necessarily offer more benefits and may lead to unwanted side effects.

So, focus on optimizing circadian rhythms first through darkness at night. Then, a low dose melatonin supplement can help fill any gaps in endogenous production, especially as we age.

Melatonin: A Sleep Aid and Signaling Molecule

Far from being just a sleep aid, this fascinating discussion reveals melatonin as a complex hormone and signaling molecule with system-wide benefits. As research on melatonin continues to emerge, it may soon take its place alongside vitamin D and omega-3s as an essential daily supplement for optimal wellness.

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