melatonin - the sleep aid and 'wonder' hormone...

Melatonin for Anti-Ageing and Youthfulness as well as for a Perfect Night's Sleep.

Do You Want to…
» Sleep Like a Baby?
» Improve Your General Mood?
» Have More Pep and Energy?
» Prevent Jet Lag
» See Vivid Dreams?
» Live Longer
» Have Reduced Cancer Risk?

Melatonin has proven benefits including for...
» Prostate Concerns
» Anti-Oxidant
» Anti-Ageing
» Cancer Concerns
» Cardiovascular Health
» Jet Lag
» Endocrine Disorders
» Depressive Disorders
» Shift Workers
» General Health

“A new wonder drug for hypertension” Times
“Hormone helps asthmatics sleep” Daily Mail
“Melatonin - shaking off tiredness” Times
“Sleep aid that may fight cancer” Boston Globe

Melatonin is probably the most famous of all the ‘super hormones’ due to the enormous amount of excitement it caused (and has continued to do so since) in the scientific community when the results of the last 15 years of research were presented at the world’s top anti-ageing conference in Vienna in 1993. Indeed when a subsequent study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded that Melatonin was “an effective sleep inducer” in 1994, sales began to rocket and much more research began into why regular and constant sleep was so important to our health.

Let’s find out why proper melatonin production is the key to a healthy lifespan.

How Melatonin Functions in the Body
The most well known of melatonin’s functions is the maintenance of the body’s biological clock which is responsible for tasks such as elevating mood, regulating sleep, and controlling appetite. In addition melatonin is closely linked to the mood neuro-transmitter serotonin. This neuro-transmitter is responsible for neuro-psychological functions such as memory, appetite and mood. When levels of one of these two substances drops, so do levels of the other.

Melatonin – an Overview
Studies dating as far back as the early 1970’s reveal that individuals who were given melatonin to alleviate jet lag or to induce sleep discovered additional feelings of contentment and improved mood. More recently, research into the mechanism behind melatonin’s effects has shown that it functions in the same way as standard Monoamine Oxidise (MAO) inhibitors such as Nardil or Parnate. These drugs prevent the substance MAO from breaking down serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, thus increasing their supply and improving mood.

Since melatonin levels are closely tied to serotonin levels, it appears that mild to moderate depression may be an indicator of melatonin deficiency. Moreover, melatonin deficiencies have been associated with disruptions in sleep patterns, the occurrence of grey hairs, weight gain, and increased frequency of colds.

As mentioned earlier, the level of melatonin in the body decreases with with age. Although most healthy individuals under the age of forty produce adequate levels of melatonin, there are some conditions that have been linked to melatonin deficiency. For example, stressful lifestyles can lead to an abundance of free radicals in the body, which can reduce melatonin production. In addition, alcohol, caffeine, sleep deprivation and radiation exposure have also been shown to deplete levels of melatonin. A doctor can check your blood levels of this hormone by the way.

Let’s look at specifics…

Melatonin for Sleep Disturbances, Insomnia and Jet lag
Melatonin helps to set and control the internal clock that governs the natural rhythms of the body. Each night the pineal gland produces melatonin which helps us fall asleep. Deep, restful sleep is a result of adequate melatonin production by the body

Jet-lag is a condition caused by de-synchronization of the biological clock. It is usually caused by drastically changing your sleep-wake cycle, as when crossing several time zones during east-west travel, or when performing shift work. Jet-lag is characterized by fatigue, early awakening or insomnia, headache, fuzzy thinking, irritability, constipation, and reduced immunity.

The symptoms are generally worse when flying in an easterly direction, and it may take as long as one day for each time zone crossed in order to fully recover. Older people have an even tougher time adjusting to these changes than younger people.

Circadian disturbances can easily result from conditions other than jet travel. We call these “artificial jet-lag syndromes” because jet-lag is universally understood. Artificial jet-lag can be induced by working night shifts, working rotating shifts (like physician-interns, management trainees for 24-hour businesses, and soldiers under battle-alert conditions), or by staying up all night. Whatever its causes, jet-lag and artificial jet-lag syndromes are seriously debilitating to cognitive function.

Melatonin taken in the evening (in the new time zone!) will rapidly reset your biological clock and almost totally alleviate (or prevent) the symptoms of jet-lag. The ability of melatonin to alleviate jet-lag was demonstrated in a study of 17 subjects flying from San Francisco to London (eight time zones away). Eight subjects took 5 mg of melatonin, while nine subjects took a placebo. Those who took melatonin had almost no symptoms of jet-lag.

Several airlines have investigated the efficacy of melatonin for alleviating jet-lag in flight crews working on international flights. They concluded when melatonin was used the crews showed improved recovery rates, better mood and sleepiness. There was also a significantly faster recovery of energy and alertness.

Nocturnal melatonin secretion is involved in physiologic sleep onset and supplementation is helpful for treating insomnia. 0.5mg to 1mg given to patients at 6pm and 8pm, i.e. close to times of the body’s release of melatonin have proved to improve mood in those patients. When 5mgs per day was administered for one month it was found to be efficacious in delayed sleep phase syndrome. Mean sleep onset time was advanced 115 minutes and mean final awakening hour by 106 minutes.

Fifteen children were treated with 2 - 10 mgs of melatonin given at bedtime - most of the children being neurologically multiple disabled. All had failed to respond to conventional treatments. Significant behavioural and social benefits were recorded and there were no adverse side effects.

Melatonin and Cancer(s)
Dr Russell J. Reiter, a University of Texas cellular biologist and his colleagues have shown that small doses of melatonin can prevent rats from contracting cancer when exposed to certain cancer-causing compounds.

The compound ‘safrole’ for instance can cause the production of free radicals that oxidise DNA, altering its structure to promote the development of cancer. Rats receiving melatonin in combination with safrole exhibited no damage to their DNA. Further research by Dr Reiter showed that rats given daily doses of melatonin actually lived 25% longer, plus the older rats became more active and physiologically younger.

Breast Cancer
Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston led by Dr. Eva Schernhammer, an epidemiologist, showed in the summer of 2005 that women who produced the lowest levels of melatonin were 70% more likely to get breast cancer than those with the highest levels.

Richard Stevens at the University of Connecticut Health Center goes on to say that breast cancer rates are much higher in industrialised countries where, among other things, people routinely use a lot of artificial light at night, which acts to suppress melatonin production. “We can’t say yet, but the evidence is accumulating that light at night, and the consequent decrease in melatonin, may be a major driver of breast cancer” he said.

A study published in the British Journal of Cancer of totally blind women (who would therefore have less exposure to light and more exposure to melatonin) found them to have less than two-thirds the normal risk of breast cancer. Similar epidemiological studies on people with varying levels of light exposure provide further confirmation of the hypothesis that melatonin reduced cancer risk in humans.

Preliminary laboratory and clinical evidence also suggests that melatonin may enhance the effects of some chemotherapy drugs used to treat breast cancer. In a study that included a small number of women with breast cancer, melatonin (administered 7 days before beginning chemotherapy) prevented the lowering of platelets in the blood. This is a common complication of chemotherapy, known as thrombocytopenia, that can lead to bleeding. In another study of a small group of women whose breast cancer  was not improving with tamoxifen (a commonly used chemotherapy medication), the addition of melatonin caused tumours to modestly shrink in over 28% of the women.

Colorectal Cancer
Studies suggest that colorectal cancer patients have lower blood levels of melatonin than healthy people. Working the night shift a few nights a month can do more than leave you bleary-eyed, reports a study published in October 2005 and it just might increase your risk of colorectal cancer.

The study found that nurses who worked the night shift at least three times a month for 15 years or more were 35% more likely to develop that type of cancer than nurses who never worked nights, Harvard University researchers report in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The researchers asked 78,586 nurses in 1988 whether they had ever worked three or more night shifts a month. The nurses indicated whether they had done so for less than 15 years or 15 years or more. The scientists followed the women through 1998 to see who developed colorectal cancer.

The finding, from the ongoing Nurses Health Study, is the first to link night shift work with a higher risk of colorectal cancer, expected to kill over 20,000 British people this year.

Turn on the lights, though, and melatonin levels decline measurably in just 10 minutes, says Richard Stevens, a cancer epidemiologist at the University of Connecticut who was not involved in the new study. After two weeks of intermittent nightly exposure to light, humans experience a dramatic reduction in melatonin production, Nurses Health Study researchers write.

What’s more Schernhammer's (breast cancer) group also showed that women who work at night are at higher risk of both breast and colon cancer.

Prostate Cancer and Prostate Gland Enlargement
Scientists around the world have independently found melatonin to be absolutely vital to prostate health and function, because the prostate contains melatonin receptors that are essential for health prostate function. Indeed, similar to breast cancer, studies of men with prostate cancer suggest that melatonin levels are lower compared to men without the cancer and test tube studies have found that melatonin inhibits the growth of prostate cancer cells.

A study in 1999 at the University of Tuebingen in Germany, confirmed that men with prostate cancer were found to have low melatonin levels. In a later study at the same university, the researchers used melatonin supplements to treat prostate cancer, as a standard therapy.

In another study melatonin, when used in conjunction with conventional medicine, improved the survival rates in 9 out of 14 patients with metastatic prostate cancer.

A study at Tel Aviv University in 1997 showed that melatonin receptors in human prostate glands could suppress prostate enlargement. They noted that prostate gland enlargement was due to an imbalance of oestrogen and testosterone as we age and that this excess oestrogen also interferes with normal melatonin metabolism.

Researchers at the University of Milan in 2000, concluded “our results, together with previous reports on different human neoplasms (tumours) suggest that "melatonin is an effective cytostaic agent, either alone or in combination with standard anti-cancer treatments.”

How does Melatonin stop or slow Cancers?
Researchers are just now starting to look at the treatment potential for melatonin. At the Bassett Research Institute in Cooperstown, New York, Dr. David Blask, a senior research scientist, reported at a cancer meeting this summer that melatonin can "put cancer cells to sleep" by blocking their ability to soak up linoleic acid, which makes cancer cells grow rapidly.

In animal studies, Blask said he had found that cancer cell growth is slower at night, when melatonin is highest, and faster during the day. He also found that adding melatonin to human breast cancer cells grown in rats can slow the cancer's growth.

Various Cancers
Current preliminary European studies of people with cancer who are given melatonin are also promising. Melatonin appears able not only to slow cancer progression and improve survival in advanced cancer patients, but to protect healthy cells from the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, said Dr. Fade Mahmoud of the University of South Dakota School of Medicine, who published a review of the studies the summer of 2005.

A study undertaken in UK was carried out on 14 cancer patients with cancers of different types. The researchers concluded that “this study would suggest that melatonin may be of value in untreatable metastatic cancer patients, particularly in improving their quality of life. Moreover, based on its effects on the immune system, melatonin could be tested in association with other anti-tumour treatments”.

Italian researchers, in a long series of human studies, have shown that melatonin, which appears to have little toxicity, can boost survival at least modestly in some people with melanoma and cancers of the lung, breast, kidney and other organs.

DNA protection
As we read earlier Dr Russell J. Reiter, a University of Texas cellular biologist and his colleagues have shown that small doses of melatonin can prevent rats from contracting cancer when exposed to certain cancer- causing compounds. The compound ‘safrole’ for instance can cause the production of free radicals that oxidise DNA, altering its structure to promote the development of cancer.

In another study it was shown that melatonin was more than 60 times more effective than vitamin C or water  soluble vitamin E in protecting DNA from damage. It was concluded that melatonin may actually bind to DNA, providing further protection beyond just its anti-oxidant capability.

It was shown that because of this and through its ability to readily penetrate into DNA mitochondria melatonin can protect against the damaging effects of alcohol in the brain, heart, skeletal muscle as well as the liver.

Melatonin & Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
SAD occurs during the winter months and is associated with hypersomnia, weight gain and craving for carbohydrates.

People with SAD instinctively shift their melatonin levels with the seasons, according to US researchers. "In patients who had SAD, the duration of melatonin secretion became longer in winter and shorter in summer, just as it occurs in other mammals," reported lead author and researcher Dr. Thomas A. Wehr.

Sufferers of SAD produce excessive melatonin and this is caused by a lack of sunlight exposure. When the body is deprived of sunlight due to seasonal weather changes, swing-shift hours or too much time indoors, an excess of melatonin is produced and frequently an imbalance of the neuro-transmitters serotonin and dopamine occurs as well.

Much has been written on the amazing effectiveness of melatonin on general health longevity. Melatonin’s most important benefit however is to extend our lifespan. Experiments have shown that animals given melatonin in their drinking water have lived as much as 33% longer. It also boosts the immune system and may be the most powerful of all the known antioxidants.

According to most recent research, melatonin promotes good cardiovascular health, exhibits preventative anti-cancer properties, protects against environmental DNA damage and could help make other cancer therapies more powerful.

Melatonin for Anti-Ageing
Melatonin has been found to be the most effective scavenger of highly toxic free radicals that induce DNA damage and thus accelerated ageing. Unlike vitamin C or Glutathione which are only active and effective in aqueous (watery) environments and vitamin E which is only active and effective in lipid (fat) environments, melatonin is effective in both, in the body.

Melatonin concentrations are particularly high in mitochondria and the cell nucleus and unlike vitamins C & E it is able to readily cross the blood-brain barrier so therefore has far more ability to actively scavenge free radical from the cell level upwards.
Melatonin and Alzheimers

Professor Daya at the Rhodes University, says melatonin could have a positive effect in helping and preventing Alzheimer’s. According to Prof. Daya, the brain uses 20% of total body oxygen – a very high consumption considering the relatively small brain mass compared to body weight. “Thus because of this there is a great deal of oxidation taking place in the brain – and yet the brain has very few resources to deal with the free radicals that are produced by this high oxygen level. Excessive generation of free radicals damages the neuronal cells in the brain” explains Prof. Daya.

“There are a number of pointers which support our hypothesis that melatonin could be beneficial. Melatonin is not produced by Alzheimer’s patients at night. Melatonin, because of its unique ability to bind to metals acts as a chelating agent and thus can also bind to Aluminium – a metal known to be present in high concentrations in brains of patients who die from this disorder.

The hormone melatonin therefore appears to have all the required properties for the prevention of and / or reducing the progression of the Alzheimer’s disease” says Prof Daya.

Melatonin and Heart Disease
Low levels of melatonin in the blood have been associated with heart disease. In several studies with rats, the evidence seems to point to the ability of melatonin to protect the hearts of these animals from the damaging effects of ischemia – decreased blood flow and oxygen that leads to a heart attack.

Melatonin and Libido
A study in 1995 concluded that taking small amounts of melatonin on a regular basis could prevent the age-related decline in testosterone levels, allowing men to be more active sexually in their later years.

Melatonin for an Immune Boost
Research has demonstrated that melatonin has the ability to enhance or augment the function of the immune system. It seems to be capable of neutralising the negative effects that stress, drugs and infections have on the function of the immune system. Studies demonstrate a stimulatory effect of melatonin on acquired immunity and that melatonin can increase natural killer cell activity.

Indeed, one study on mice showed that melatonin could restore the function of the T-helper cells (the body’s own natural killers of invading organisms) in mice whose immune systems had been compromised.

Melatonin and Encephalitis
Although melatonin has not been scientifically evaluated for use in treating human encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), some studies suggest that this supplement may protect animals from serious complications associated with the condition and even increase their survival rates.

In one study of mice infected with Venezuelan equine virus (a type of organism that causes viral encephalitis), melatonin supplements significantly lowered the presence of the virus in the blood and reduced death rates by more than 80%.

Other possible Melatonin benefits
Melatonin may have additional positive effects. In recent studies, melatonin has shown some value for easing the withdrawal from benzodiazepine drugs for individuals who have become dependent on those drugs.

Other studies show that melatonin supplements may also be useful in helping individuals who are trying to stop smoking. It has also shown some effectiveness in lowering blood pressure levels in several human studies and reducing blood cholesterol levels in limited animal studies.

Other recent research indicates that melatonin is concentrated in certain cells (which may also produce natural melatonin) in the stomach and intestines, where it may help prevent damage caused when non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are taken on a long-term basis. In one study, supplemental melatonin may have prevented cluster headaches in individuals susceptible to having that type of headache.

Another study showed that administration of 3mg of melatonin at bedtime for two weeks significantly attenuated abdominal pain and reduced rectal pain sensitivity in people suffering with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

Melatonin, TV and Children
Reported in the New Scientist, scientists at the University of Florence in Italy found that when youngsters were deprived of their TV sets, computers and video games, their melatonin production increased by an average 30%. “Girls are reaching puberty much earlier than in the 1950s.  One reason is due to their average increase in weight; but another may be due to reduced levels of melatonin,” suggests Roberto Salti, who led the study.

Frequently Asked Questions

» Melatonin as a Sleep Aid
For this use the standard dose is 3mg but up to 9mg can occasionally be required for peaceful sleep - a trial on 1400 women who took 75mg daily for four years showed no ill effects. Melatonin is one of the least toxic substances known.

» Melatonin as a General Health Aid
When taken daily and not being used for problematic sleep, 1mg a day is sufficient to maintain optimum levels for youthful health and anti-ageing needs. It is especially useful for people who consume a lot of coffee, alcohol and smokers as all these diminish levels of melatonin in the body.

» Melatonin for those aged 60+ or Cancer Sufferers
Take 3mg each night and increase to 6mg if insufficient benefit

» When should it be taken?
Melatonin should only be taken at night-time, usually about thirty minutes prior to going to bed / sleep. If you are on a long haul flight take 1-3mg prior to getting on the flight and another 1-3mg prior to going to sleep.

» Does melatonin have that morning-after hangover effect of sleeping pills?
No. You should normally wake up well refreshed and full of energy. If you wake up feeling a little tired you should reduce your dosage until you wake up feeling well refreshed.

» Should certain people avoid taking it?
Yes. These include women who are pregnant or nursing (since no one knows how excessive exposure to the hormone might affect a foetus or infant); people with severe allergies or autoimmune diseases (melatonin could exacerbate such conditions by stimulating the immune system); people with immune-system cancers such as lymphoma or leukaemia (for the same reason), and healthy children (who already produce it in abundance). Sufferers of kidney disease should also avoid taking.

Women trying to conceive should also think twice about taking the hormone, since high doses can act as a contraceptive. People on certain NSAID’s, antidepressant medications, antipsychotic medications, benzodiazepines, blood pressure medications, blood thinning medications / anticoagulants and steroidal medications should also consult their doctor prior to using melatonin.

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