Inadequate sleep may lead to a lot of health related problems such as depression, headache, stress and high blood pressure in an otherwise healthy individual. An important hormone which is responsible and which regulates our biological sleep and wake-up cycle is known as Melatonin. Melatonin is needed in our body for regulating other hormones too. This article covers all the functions, sources, dosage levels, deficiency symptoms and other consideration related to Melatonin, in detail.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that is produced in our body and is made from Tryptophan (which is an amino acid). This hormone is secreted by the pineal gland which is situated in the human brain. Melatonin is also synthesized in our stomach and intestines. Melatonin is responsible for regulating the human sleep pattern (circadian rhythm) and also influences other hormones in our body. Melatonin supplements are popular in the market for their positive affect on human sleeping pattern.
Melatonin is also responsible for the timing and release of reproductive hormones in women. Melatonin plays an important role in determining when a woman should start her monthly cycles, the duration of her monthly cycles and finally, when she should have her menopause. Melatonin has become popular as a hormone because it has anti-oxidant benefits and therefore, plays an important role in strengthening our immune system too.
How Does Melatonin work?
Melatonin works in our body via the suprachiasmatic nucleus or SCN. The starting point for the circadian rhythm in our body is our eyes. As we know, the human eye is receptive to changes in our surroundings such as lightness and darkness. This sensitivity of our eyes is due to some light sensitive receptors that message the brain about how dark or light our surroundings are. Depending upon this message, the SCN orders the pineal gland to produce the melatonin hormone. The melatonin hormone levels in our body therefore are determined by the amount of light received by the human eyes.
Sources Of Melatonin
Melatonin hormone is found in our brain and is produced by the pineal gland. The hormone is also found in the tissues of our eyes and in the gastro-intestinal tract. Melatonin (tryptophan) is found in traces in the following food sources – oats, rice, olive oil, wine, beer, tomato, grape skin, tart cherries, walnuts, milk and other dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, and ice cream.
Deficiencies Of Melatonin
Deficiency of Melatonin occurs in the human body with aging. The most common deficiency symptom is sleeplessness.
Benefits Of Melatonin
Melatonin supplements are now very popular in the market and the hormone is often referred to as the ‘youth hormone’. Some of important benefits of using Melatonin supplements are:
For Treating Symptoms Of Jet Lag & Insomnia
Since Melatonin regulates the human biological clock related to sleep, supplements of Melatonin help in treating jet lag symptoms in frequent air travelers. Many studies have proved this claim by experimenting with international flight crew members who were given Melatonin supplements. These studies found that Melatonin supplements were helpful in increasing the energy levels and alertness of such individuals.
Also, individuals who are old, those suffering from schizophrenia or those who work at night also suffer from poor sleeping habits. Melatonin supplements are also beneficial for such individuals as it helps them to sleep better and faster, and also to remain alert in the morning.
For Menopausal Women
Women undergoing menopause usually complain of poor sleep along with hot flashes and excessive sweating during night. Though clinical studies have not found that Melatonin may help in reducing hot flashes, few studies claim that melatonin supplements help in relieving sleep related problems in such women.
For Treating Bone Related Ailments
Findings from few related studies highlight the fact that Melatonin supplements help in promoting bone growth by stimulating the process of osteoblast in humans. This may be the reason why older individuals suffer more from bone related ailments like Osteoporosis and Rheumatoid Arthritis.
If these findings are true, then Melatonin supplements can help in reversing most of symptoms related to Osteoporosis and Rheumatoid Arthritis in older individuals and menopausal women. However, more studies are still needed to accept this claim.
For Treating Breast Cancer & Prostate Cancer
Several studies have shown that low levels of Melatonin in the body are associated with breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men. These studies claim that low levels of this hormone are one of the main reasons for growth of cancerous cells in the body.
This could only mean that supplementation with melatonin may slow down the growth of such dangerous cells in the body. Similarly, few studies also claim that Melatonin supplements may positively interact with chemotherapy drugs in cancer patients as it helps in preventing lowering of blood platelets.
Apart from the above, Melatonin supplements were also found to be effective against the following types of disorders in humans – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism, Fibromyalgia, clinical depression, elevated pressure in the eyeball, chronic and cluster headaches, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, pulmonary sarcoidosis, sun burn etc.
Also, few clinical studies claim that Melatonin supplements help elderly people with better sleep especially when they are on the course of withdrawing benzodiazepines such as – diazepam, alprazolam and lorazepam.
The recommended dosage level for Melatonin supplements include the following – 1 to 3 mg for those suffering from Insomnia (can go up to 5 to 6 mg if lower doses do not work) and for Jet lag, a dosage level of 0.5 to 5 mg. The supplement should be taken atleast an hour before bedtime with or without food and by mouth. The minimum recommended dosage level is between 0.1 to 0.3 mg.
Overdose & Side Effects
Over dosage may cause anxiety and irritability in humans. Possible side effects of Melatonin include the following – disorientation, sleepwalking, confusion, headache, morning grogginess, persistent drowsiness while awake, hallucinations or paranoia fertility problems, low libido, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting, lower blood pressure etc.
Melatonin supplements in infants and children may cause seizures. It should also be avoided in pregnant women, lactating mothers, schizophrenia patients and those with autoimmune disease. Others should always consider taking the opinion of a qualified medical practitioner before going ahead with Melatonin.
Melatonin levels in the body increases when the surrounding is dark and it falls drastically when the surrounding is brightly lit. Therefore, when we are exposed to high amounts of light during the evening time or too little light during the day time, the circadian rhythm of the body gets affected and so does the levels of Melatonin hormones.
Few studies have found that Melatonin levels change with a person’s age. In short, individuals have higher levels of Melatonin in their body when they are 20 years old and the levels gradually slide down to about 20% when they are 80 years old. In fact, this finding is used to explain the difficulty faced by older individuals in having a good night’s sleep.
In the market, Melatonin is available in the following forms – liquid, tablets & capsules and as cream. It is always better to start with a very low dose of Melatonin (say 0.3 mg per day) under proper medical guidance.
Avoid Melatonin supplements with – Anti-depressant medications, Blood pressure medications, Blood-thinning medications (anticoagulants), Steroids and immunosuppressant medications, St. John’s wort etc.
Melatonin supplements may positively interact with the following for better health conditions – Interleukin-2 (tumor related) and Tamoxifen.