Melatonin – It’s Not Just For Sleep Anymore
Posted on February 15 2021
Known as the “Dracula hormone”, melatonin has long been associated with all things sleep. Sleep onset, sleep duration, reducing jet lag are well recognized and familiar reasons to use melatonin. However expanding research has revealed many more effects of this nocturnal hormone.
Melatonin is produced and released by a tiny gland in the brain, the pineal gland. This process is only active in dim light or darkness, hence the reference to the literary character, Dracula, who only came out at night. In fact, melatonin release is increased fifteen times as daylight fades. That continues until around 3 AM when melatonin levels begin to drop and the hormone cortisol begins to increase to allow for awakening with the morning light. This rise and fall of melatonin and cortisol allow for the circadian rhythm.
Expanding research however has discovered that melatonin is not just released by the pineal gland in the brain. Would you believe that five hundred times more melatonin is produced in the intestinal tract than in the brain?! It’s true. In the gut, melatonin is involved in multiple processes that are related to intestinal motility. These effects make it useful for a variety of intestinal disorders including GERD and SIBO. In addition, there is evidence that melatonin may be beneficial is healing stomach injury caused by non-steroidal drugs.
But the benefits of melatonin don’t stop there. Migraine, mild cognitive decline and side effects of chemotherapy have all been shown to have positive response to melatonin.
However two of the unexpected benefits of melatonin may be the most important ones for all of us during the current pandemic. Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant and immune enhancer. These lesser known effects can provide a major benefit to support the body’s response of inflammation and infection. Melatonin helps support production of antioxidants which are needed to reduce oxidative stress and also enhances function of immune cells as well as cytokine response. There is evidence that use of melatonin may be a significant addition to COVID 19 therapy and studies are underway to evaluate that. Caution is necessary when using melatonin in autoimmune disease, however, as the cytokine effects of melatonin could trigger an autoimmune flare.
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Remember - always talk to your provider before starting new medications or supplements.
~Dr. Cynthia West. MD