6 Remarkable Health Benefits of Melatonin
Melatonin has been widely accepted by the mainstream as a natural sleep aid that innately regulates the body’s circadian rhythm. However, many don’t know about the diverse value this hormone delivers beyond managing the sleep-wake cycle, particularly its immune-enhancing traits that affect a multitude of bodily functions. To understand melatonin’s responsibility in aiding sleep and longevity, let’s take a look at the large picture of what it is and how it works.
What is Melatonin and How Does it Work?
Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain. It’s synthesized from tryptophan, an essential amino acid, and the neurotransmitter, serotonin. Upon sunset when darkness ensues, the pineal gland is activated by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a control center in the hypothalamus that regulates a number of body systems such as sleep, hormones, body temperature, heart rate, and immune function through organizing and operating our biological circadian rhythms. When this control system releases melatonin into the bloodstream, relaxation and sleep result. As the sun begins to rise the next day, natural light exposure halts the production of melatonin. In its place, cortisol is produced, which raises our body temperature in anticipation of the activities in the day ahead.
While the health properties of melatonin seem to be plentiful, some have been studied more extensively than others. Here is an overview of the most remarkable benefits of melatonin.
6 Health Benefits of Melatonin
1. Sleep-Wake Cycle
Melatonin’s critical role in the body’s sleep-wake cycle is what gave it its name and fame as the “sleep hormone.” With sleep quality affecting a vast majority of our ability to function daily, it’s no wonder melatonin can sway more than our sleep patterns. Sleep disorders resulting from jet lag, shift work, and increased artificial light exposure at night from computer, phone, and TV screens, all contribute to circadian-cycle disruption and the cascade of health issues that can follow. Studies reveal that supplementing with melatonin can help people with these simple sleep disorders fall asleep seven minutes faster, on average, while improving the quality and duration of sleep through the night. Additionally, jet lag has been shown to be significantly reduced by supplementing with melatonin, as it helps the body sync with the time change more quickly. Further research is still needed to determine if melatonin can ease more complex and long-term cases of disordered sleep.
2. Immune System
As we age, natural production of melatonin drops significantly, making immune-repairing sleep more elusive. One study determined that melatonin acted as an immune modulator. This means it can work as a stimulant in immunosuppressed conditions, and as a regulator in overactive immune responses. Melatonin may help regulate cytokine production, an array of inflammatory chemicals secreted by your cells.
As previously mentioned, melatonin production declines with aging, resulting in a noticeable shift in immune chemicals called cytokines. As we age, some cytokines kick into overdrive, while others tend to decrease, which may hinder the anti-viral and anti-tumor properties of the body’s natural killer (NK) cells. However, one study found that the supplementation of melatonin counters that effect.
Also, melatonin promotes the production of progenitor cells, which replace the dead or damaged cells necessary to reduce inflammation, along with the action of releasing T-helper cells that are responsible for secreting microbe-destroying antibodies. The ability to prevent or treat infections by way of enhanced immunity is what slows down the aging process. In the absence of infections, less inflammatory damage occurs.
Due to melatonin’s high antioxidant capacity, supplementing with melatonin and consuming melatonin-rich foods like wine, grape juice, and walnuts can support cardiovascular health. Recent studies show that melatonin may offer significant benefits for the cardiovascular system.
5. Nervous System
As a potent antioxidant, melatonin outshines well-known vitamins such as E and C in free radical scavenging. One study showed melatonin to be a superior antioxidant due to its ability to scavenge both oxygen and nitrogen-based reactants that induce proinflammatory cytokines. Other studies further describe how oxidative stress hits hardest in the mitochondria, which is subjected to a plethora of abuse. With mitochondrial homeostasis being crucial to age-associated neurological issues, melatonin’s superior ability to combat oxidative damage lends hope as a neuroprotective component.
6. Hair Growth
A three-month, multi-center study on the topical effects of melatonin for hair loss showed positive results in more than 1800 volunteers spanning 200 centers. The study published in the International Journal of Trichology conducted hair pull tests and found that the percentage of patients that lost more than six strands of hair decreased from 61.6% to 7.8%, while patients that lost less than three hairs per test increased from 12.2% to 61.5%. A decrease in seborrhea and seborrheic scalp dermatitis was also seen.
What to Look For in Melatonin Supplements
Melatonin comes in a range of different delivery methods outside of capsules and tablets. For those who are sensitive to swallowing pills, chewable, sublingual, and even liposomal preparations may be better. These also allow for higher absorption rates due to a lack of need to digest in the stomach. Some may want to consider a slow-release form that allows for a more steady delivery through the night to help you stay asleep longer, while regular forms can help people fall asleep faster. Also, check for common additives such as soy, gluten, or other allergens in the ingredients. The FDA doesn’t regulate melatonin supplement production, so it may be wise to look into the ingredients further and perhaps opt for a pharmaceutical grade (pure) melatonin.
While there is no standard recommended dose for melatonin, smaller doses seem to work just as well as higher doses, depending on the reason for supplementing. Doses available by supplemental form range from 0.2 to 10 mg or more. Side effects may include nightmares or bad dreams, but research in this area is still in its infancy. Thus, if you’re interested in supplementing with melatonin, speak with a doctor to determine the best dosage for you.
Safety Considerations and Contraindications
Long-term use of melatonin has not yet been studied. Don’t use melatonin if you:
- Are under 18 years old
- Are pregnant, nursing, or on birth control
- Take prescription medication
- Take hormone replacement therapy
- Have high blood pressure
- Drive or operating heavy machinery
- Take MAO inhibitor drugs or corticosteroids
- Have an autoimmune disease or condition
Roughly three million Americans have turned to melatonin primarily as a sleep aid due to its ability to regulate the natural circadian rhythm, however, multiple studies are finding that there are many more benefits to taking the naturally-occurring hormone as a supplement. Although more research is needed, the safety profile of melatonin indicates that it is relatively free of side effects. But it may work best when using it for short-term disruptions in sleep as a way to train the body back into a healthy circadian rhythm. Always consult with trusted medical practitioners to determine if there may be a personal benefit in adding melatonin to your daily routine.
Carrillo-Vico A, Lardone PJ, Alvarez-Sánchez N, Rodríguez-Rodríguez A, Guerrero JM. Melatonin: buffering the immune system. Int J Mol Sci. 2013;14(4):8638‐8683. Published 2013 Apr 22. doi:10.3390/ijms14048638
Esposito E, Cuzzocrea S. Antiinflammatory activity of melatonin in central nervous system. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2010;8(3):228‐242. doi:10.2174/157015910792246155
Ferracioli-Oda E, Qawasmi A, Bloch MH. Meta-analysis: melatonin for the treatment of primary sleep disorders. PLoS One. 2013;8(5):e63773. Published 2013 May 17. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063773
Fischer TW, Trüeb RM, Hänggi G, Innocenti M, Elsner P. Topical melatonin for treatment of androgenetic alopecia. Int J Trichology. 2012;4(4):236‐245. doi:10.4103/0974-7753.111199
Gillette MU, Tischkau SA. Suprachiasmatic nucleus: the brain's circadian clock. Recent Prog Horm Res. 1999;54:33‐59
Jiki Z, Lecour S, Nduhirabandi F. Cardiovascular Benefits of Dietary Melatonin: A Myth or a Reality?. Front Physiol. 2018;9:528. Published 2018 May 17. doi:10.3389/fphys.2018.00528
Pandi-Perumal SR, BaHammam AS, Brown GM, et al. Melatonin antioxidative defense: therapeutical implications for aging and neurodegenerative processes. Neurotox Res. 2013;23(3):267‐300. doi: 10.1007/s12640-012-9337-4
Reiter RJ, Paredes SD, Korkmaz A, Jou MJ, Tan DX. Melatonin combats molecular terrorism at the mitochondrial level. Interdiscip Toxicol. 2008;1(2):137‐149. doi:10.2478/v10102-010-0030-2
Pfeffer M, Rauch A, Korf HW, von Gall C. The endogenous melatonin (MT) signal facilitates reentrainment of the circadian system to light-induced phase advances by acting upon MT2 receptors. Chronobiol Int. 2012;29(4):415‐429. doi:10.3109/07420528.2012.667859
Shah C, Kablinger A. Ramelteon-induced nightmares: A case report. Asian J Psychiatr. 2015;18:111‐112. doi:10.1016/j.ajp.2015.09.004
Srinivasan V, Maestroni GJ, Cardinali DP, Esquifino AI, Perumal SR, Miller SC. Melatonin, immune function and aging. Immun Ageing. 2005;2:17. Published 2005 Nov 29. doi:10.1186/1742-4933-2-17
Sun H, Gusdon AM, Qu S. Effects of melatonin on cardiovascular diseases: progress in the past year. Curr Opin Lipidol. 2016;27(4):408‐413. doi: 10.1097/MOL.0000000000000314