Melatonin also known chemically as N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine, is a naturally occurring compound found in animals, plants and microbes. In animals, circulating levels of the hormone melatonin vary in a daily cycle, thereby allowing the entrainment of the circadian rhythms of several biological functions.
Many biological effects of melatonin are produced through activation of melatonin receptors,while others are due to its role as a pervasive and powerful antioxidant, with a particular role in the protection of nuclear and mitochondrial DNA.
In mammals, melatonin is secreted into the blood by the pineal gland in the brain. Known as the “hormone of darkness” it is secreted in darkness in both day-active (diurnal) and night-active (nocturnal) animals.
It may also be produced by a variety of peripheral cells such as bone marrow cells,lymphocytes and epithelial cells. Usually, the melatonin concentration in these cells is much higher than that found in the blood but it does not seem to be regulated by the photoperiod.
Commonly reported melatonin side effects include:
• Stomach cramps
• Vivid dreams
• Some studies have reported negative effects on the reproductive system
• Decreased sexual drive
Although melatonin is very popular as a Sleep Remedy or Sleep Aid and as a natural treatment for Insomnia. Melatonin has other uses aside from improving sleep. Studies show that it can be used as an antioxidant, cancer protective agent, skin protective agent, contraceptive and as a treatment for Seasonal affective depression. As you can see, Melatonin is a multi-functional hormone that is produced naturally by the human body. There are other uses for melatonin which are still being studied today. We have listed the more common use of melatonin below.
1. Melatonin Sleep Aid/Melatonin as a Natural Sleeping Pills – Melatonin is a natural sleeping aid. During daytime, the blood level of melatonin is low and increases at night. Melatonin supplements that are given during the day makes anyone feel sleepy. Natural melatonin production in the brain is highest between 2am and 4am and declines as a person ages. Users of melatonin reported an increase in the vividness and frequency of their dreams.
2. Melatonin as an Antioxidant – Melatonin is an antioxidant which is both active in water and oil phase. Vitamin-C and Glutathione are only active in water phase while Vitamin E and Vitamin A are only active in oil phase.
3. Cancer protection (Possible anti-tumor properties) - Women with breast cancer have lower levels of melatonin compared to cancer free individuals. Melatonin also inhibits the growth of certain types of breast cancer cells. Preliminary experiments suggest that melatonin may enhance the effectiveness of some chemotherapy drugs. Men with prostate cancer also have lower levels of melatonin compared to normal individuals. One study reported that the addition of melatonin to conventional anti-cancer drugs enhanced the survivable rates of men with metastatic prostate cancer.
4. Oral contraceptive – Melatonin also plays a role in the endocrine-reproductive system and it reduces the circulation of Leutenizing Hormone. Melatonin may inhibit ovulation in women and it had been suggested for use in combination with other contraceptives. Some studies suggest that melatonin actually stimulates reproduction. It is noted that when men take high doses of melatonin, there is an associated decrease in sperm mobility and sex drive.
5. Skin protection from ultraviolet light – Topical melatonin when combined with vitamins C and E exhibits photo protective property. Melatonin can be used as a natural sunscreen.
6. Insomnia – Several studies suggest that melatonin taken by mouth before going to sleep helps a person fall asleep faster. It is best to take it 1 or 1 and a half hours before going to sleep.
7. Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder - Some studies show that people which suffers from major depression or panic disorder have low blood levels of melatonin. There are experimental studies showing that melatonin increases serotonin levels which helps reduce the symptoms of depressive illness.
8. Jet Lag and Work Shifts – Melatonin reduces the time it takes to establish normal sleep pattern and reduces the time it takes to fall asleep and reduces daytime tiredness. Working at night shifts or staying up all night upsets the biological clock of the body. This causes fatigue, dizziness and disability to have clear thinking. Using melatonin before bedtime helps restore the biological clock function and relieves those symptoms.
9. Melatonin for Alzheimer’s disease Patients - Melatonin has some positive effects on patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. It can improve their sleep and possibly slow down cognitive impairment.
10. Anti-Aging / Longevity – The positive effects of melatonin on deep restorative sleep could also account for a longer life span. The University of Rajasthan in India tested the influence of chronic administration of low dose melatonin against age-induced oxidative stress on the tissue of mice. The result of the study satates that Melatonin is able to reduce age-induced decline in the body’s natural antioxidant system. The study also indicates that melatonin is also acting as a free radical scavenger and an anti-aging agent.
11. Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Melatonin can improve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome in patients who are suffering from sleep disturbances. The use of 3mg Melatonin for two weeks have significantly reduced abdominal pain and bloating, while also reducing the sensitivity of the rectum.
12. Migraine headache reduction – Additional research is needed to see if melatonin is effective for treating migraine. Studies show that there is a relationship between Melatonin and Headache. A research of Dr. Mario Peres, of Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein, in Sao Paulo, Brazil showed that there is at least 50 percent reduction in the frequency of headache after three months of Melatonin treatment (3 milligrams of melatonin 30 minutes before bedtime).
13. Dream Enhancement (Vivid Dreams) - The use of melatonin can lead to vivid, memorable and enjoyable dreams but it can also lead to vivid nightmares. Melatonin improves REM sleep. Any dose of Melatonin that is higher than 1 mg is likely to make dreams very intense. People have reported encountering nightmares on high doses ( typically 2 to 5 mg ).
14. Immune system booster – Animals research shows that melatonin can provide a short term enhancement or stimulation of the immune system. Human studies are not yet established.
15. Diabetes (Adjunct Therapy) - Melatonin used together with Zinc may improve glycemic control in patients that are not responding well to Metformin.
16. Menopause – Melatonin have been reported to have some beneficial effects in treating the symptoms associated with Menopause. However, more research is needed to support these claims.
17. Anti-Inflammatory – A limited research shows that melatonin may posses anti-inflammatory actions.
18. Anti-Anxiety – Melatonin can also be used as an anti-anxiety agent.