Melatonin is best known as a sleep hormone because of its action controlling the circadian cycle. But melatonin also has antioxidant properties, and may have an important anti-aging role.
A recent study looked at artificially aged mice to determine the effects of melatonin on aging. Such mice are used as a model to study the fundamental mechanisms of aging because they develop markers also found in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.
According to the study, as reported by Green Med Info:
“… [T]reatment with melatonin … was able to reduce oxidative stress and the neurodegenerative calpain/Cdk5 pathway … and … markers of cerebral aging and neurodegeneration … indicating the neuroprotective and anti-aging effect of melatonin.”
It's well known that lack of sleep interferes with metabolism and hormone production in a way that is similar to the effects of aging. One way that this may occur could be related to the action of melatonin, the “sleep” hormone secreted by your brain.
Normally, your brain produces melatonin in a daily rhythm that peaks at night, around 9 or 10 p.m. This makes you sleepy, and it is these regularly occurring secretions that help regulate your sleep cycle. If you're not getting enough sleep, there's a good chance your melatonin production is not up to par either, and this could have far-reaching impacts on your health, even accelerating the aging process of your brain.
The Powerful Antioxidant Effects of Melatonin
In a new study, artificially aged mice treated with melatonin had reduced oxidative stress and markers of cerebral aging and neurodegeneration, indicating the melatonin offered both neuroprotective and anti-aging effects. Melatonin actually has antioxidant properties that may help explain its important anti-aging role, as it helps to suppress harmful free radicals in your body and even slows the production of estrogen, which can activate cancer.
Melatonin's immediate precursor is the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is a major player in uplifting your mood. And, like serotonin, melatonin plays important roles in your physical and mental health. Studies have shown that insufficient melatonin production can set you up for:
- Decreased immune function
- Accelerated cancer cell proliferation and tumor growth (including leukemia)
- Blood pressure instability
- Decreased free radical scavenging
- Increased plaques in the brain, like those seen with Alzheimer's disease
- Increased risk of osteoporosis
- Diabetic microangiopathy (capillary damage)
- Depression and/or seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
This Peptide Stimulates Melatonin and Cortisol
The effect of Epitalon on melatonin and cortisol secretion in female rhesus monkeys of various ages was evaluated by enzyme immunoassay. Epitalon stimulated evening melatonin production and normalized circadian rhythms of cortisol production in old monkeys.
Electromagnetic Fields Can Also Disrupt Your Sleep
Additionally, I recommend checking your bedroom for electro-magnetic fields (EMFs) as these too can disrupt your pineal gland's production of melatonin, and may have other negative effects as well.
At a bare minimum, move alarm clocks and other electrical devices away from your head. If these devices must be used, keep them as far away from your bed as possible, preferably at least three feet. Also, avoid keeping cell phones and portable phone bases on your nightstand. Cell phone chargers should be kept at least four feet away from your bed, while portable phone bases and wireless routers should be kept as far away from your bedroom as possible. Avoid running electrical cords underneath your bed.
To check for the presence of electric fields in the walls, you can purchase an inexpensive low voltage e-field detector. They are commonly available at most local electrical, electronic and hardware stores. A widely used e-field tester is the Non-contact Adjustable Voltage Detector, AC 5-1000V. This device will also allow you to check for the presence of electric field exposure throughout your home and workplace.
Last but not least, beware of what's on the other side of your bedroom wall, and under the floor. Avoid sleeping with your head against a wall that has electric meters, circuit breaker panels, televisions or stereos, for example, on the other side. All of these are sources of magnetic fields that you should sleep at least four feet away from to limit dangerous exposure.
Optimizing Melatonin Production and Regulating Your Body Clock
Melatonin production is stimulated by darkness and suppressed by light, which is why your levels should be highest just prior to bedtime. This perfectly orchestrated system allows you to fall asleep when the sun sets and awaken refreshed with the sunrise, while also providing potential anti-aging and disease-fighting benefits.
As mentioned earlier, TVs and computers emit significant blue light, which will tend to decrease your melatonin if you work past dark, so ideally you'd want to turn these items off once the sun goes down. For use in the evening, you can purchase “low blue lights,” which emit an amber light instead of the blue that suppresses melatonin production. Therefore, these bulbs are ideal for areas such as your bedroom, bathroom, or living room in the evening.
Additionally, the quality of light you're exposed to during the day also matters when it comes to maintaining a healthy rhythm. While most of us are over-exposed to light in the evenings, most of us are also under-exposed to light during the day!
Most incandescent- and fluorescent lights emit very poor-quality light. What your body needs for optimal functioning is the full-spectrum light you get outdoors, but most of us do not spend much time outside to take advantage of this healthy light. Using full-spectrum light bulbs in your home and office can help ameliorate this lack of high-quality sunlight during the day.
Remember, when your circadian rhythms are disrupted, your body produces less melatonin, which means it has less ability to fight cancer, and less protection against free radicals that may accelerate aging and disease.
Children usually have much higher levels of melatonin than adults, and as you grow older your levels typically continue to decrease.
Researchers believe this may explain why many older adults occasionally experience disrupted sleep patterns. With less melatonin in their blood, the stimulus to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake feeling rested can potentially be compromised, which is why some older adults may benefit from extra melatonin — likewise if you perform night shift work, travel often and experience jet lag, or otherwise suffer from occasional sleeplessness due to stress or unexplained reasons.
Goncharova, N.D., Khavinson, B.K. & Lapin, B.A. Bulletin of Experimental Biology and Medicine (2001) 131: 394. doi:10.1023/A:1017928925177