Ever had jet lag? It’s no fun! The day-night cycle, called circadian rhythm, is the “tick-tock” of our lives, and it is essential for good health. Disruption of this rhythm promotes stress and disease.
Your body’s daytime and nighttime patterns are controlled primarily by the pineal gland, which produces the hormone melatonin in response to darkness and the hormone serotonin in response to light. Melatonin levels usually peak about 2 a.m. and decrease gradually during the rest of the early morning. With the appearance of light at sunrise, melatonin production stops and serotonin levels begin to elevate.
One theory of aging is that your body, like a clock, is genetically programmed to wind down. Thus, aging is expressed by a blurring of the daytime and nighttime patterns. Just as a newly wound clock tick-tocks with great strength and distinctiveness, but as it winds down, the tick-tocks become weak and inconsistent.
Melatonin supplementation at night can put the tick and tock back into your tick-tocks, and may be one of the most exciting anti-aging approaches to appear in decades.
Numerous researchers have demonstrated that melatonin may enhance longevity. For instance, Swedish re-searcher Walter Pierpaoli, and Georges M. Maestroni of the Institute of Integrative Bio-Medical Research in Locarno, Switzerland, found that when ten healthy but aging (19 months old) mice were given melatonin, their life-spans increased to 931 days, compared to 755 days for the control group. Melatonin not only prolonged their lifespan, according to researchers, but “also exerted an extraordinary position action on their performance and reversed or delayed the symptoms of age-related debility, disease, and cosmetic decline in dramatic fashion.”
As we age, we become more vulnerable to problems such as insomnia, or a poor sleeping pattern. This characteristic is a particular symptoms of the elderly. Many night owls are the elderly, primarily because they cannot sleep.
In a double blind placebo trial, Austrian researchers tested the effects of melatonin on 20 young, healthy volunteers exposed to artificial insomnia. Every aspect of their sleep improved, including a reduction in the time they were awake before sleep and in the number of awakenings during their total sleep period.
Hospitalized patients are known to suffer from insomnia. Studies with them have revealed that the low light intensity of hospitalization significantly alters the melatonin response to darkness, thus blurring the circadian rhythm and creating insomnia. It is almost routine to give hospitalized patients strong sedatives to induce unconsciousness, but this is not sleep, nor is it healthy.
Depression can be a problem for any age, but it is particularly pronounced for the elderly. One form, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is directly related to the reduction of daylight hours during the winter months, and is effectively treated with high-intensity light. Increasing the brightness of the light cycle has been shown to increase the amount of melatonin released during the dark cycle.
Researcher J. Beck-Friis has demonstrated that at least one syndrome of severe depression is related to low melatonin levels and abnormal melatonin/serotonin cycling.
One of the most exciting aspects of the melatonin story—about which there have been 4,000 articles published—is that the substance is inexpensive, nonprescription, and without any known toxic properties.
Reprinted from Health and Healing by permission of Phillips Publishing, Inc., 7811 Montrose Road, Potomac, MD 20854