Melatonin and Health

Introduction

Melatonin is a ubiquitous natural hormone-like compound produced in the pianeal gland (embedded deeply in the brain) and by other tissues, for instance, in the gastrointestinal tissues. This hormone is involved in numerous aspexts of general circadian and physiological regulations. It sets and maintains the internal clocks governing the natural rhythms of body functions. Experimentally, melatonin modifies immunity, the stress respoinse and some aspects of the aging process. Clinically, melatonin has been used in rhythm distrubances, sleep disorders, and cancer. It possesses multifaceted and far-reaching biological effects. Melatonin was released into the general and naturaet in the spring of 1993. In the area of sleep disturbances, malatonin has been shown to effective in treating a condition known as delayed sleep phase syndrome and in corecting the disordered circadian rythms of jet lag and shift work. Researchers have studied the anticancer effects of melatonin, and it appears to work closely with vitamin B-6 and zinc in opposing the immunologic decline which normally accompanies aging.


A recent report described the use of melatonin to treat sleep disorders in hyperactive and neurologically compromised children: small nightly doses corrected the sleep problems, and investigators noticed improved mood and more stable and sociable dispositions tended to accompany the use of mleatonin with these children.


Melatonin also has exciting potential roles in ameliorating women’s health problems, such as osteoporosis, premenstrual syndrome, even birth control. As one of the body’s primary anti-stress hormones, it performs what are referred to as tonic and adaptogenic functions.


The Chemistry of Melatonin

Melatonin stabilizes the electrical actvity of the central nervous system and causes reapd synchronization of the elecytrical activity of te brin as well. In contrast, loss of the pineal gland predisposes animals to seizures. It has been proposed that the pineal, activn mostly but not exclusively through melatonin, is a “tranquilizing organ on behalf of homeostatic equilibrium”, and that it acts as a general synchronizing, stabilizing and moderating organ. This suggests that melatonin may have many applications for stabilizing and harmonizing aspects of brain function and chemical production.


Contraindications

If there is a weakness in our knowledge of the long terms effects of melatonin, it is in the area of this hormone’s indirect influences on the body. Individuals must find their own optimal dose. Starting doses are recommeded at 3 milligrams per day. Be sure to take melatonin in the evening. You might use it somewhat earlier than bedtime (5-8 pm). The optimal dose can vary widely in persons, apparently on account of drastic differences in the rate of which the liver metabolizes meltonin. The rate of metabolism is key to the increasing of doses over time.


Recent reports link the use of high levels of melatonin with sleep disorders, especially nightmares. These reports have been published mainly as case studies, but should be taken to heart with persons who are thinking of taking melatonin and are absolutely sure that there are no side effects. With any type of medication, there are always side effects if the dosage is not correct for individual needs.


Sports Performance

One of the most important aspects of proper performance (and one of the least practiced) is the concept of regular sleep patterns. Athletes are notorious for working their bodies extremely hard, and not getting the required sleep they need for proper performance. This is seen in a multitude of high school athletes who never make it through intercollegiate sports, and college athletes who do not continue after university sports. Dancers, and some professional athletes who have hectic travel schedules, who disregard the importance of sleep also limit their longevity in their sports.


Melatonin and General Health

People today have stressful lives. The importance of Melatonin cannot be understated if it can do what it proports to. It is estimated that one in four have trouble sleeping at some time. Most try to make up for it by sleeping in on weekends, but for many, to no avail.


Melatonin shows great promise for persons who are suffering from chronic diseases who may have psycholigical side effects of stress, worry, and trouble coping. Just getting a good night’s sleep for many helps in the recovery process.


Health and fitness professionals should be familiar with the benefical and side effects of the use of melatonin. Knowledge of beginning and graduating doses are also recomended. The chart below highlights a suggested progression as to the use of melatonin by condition and time.






































Chart I
Experimental use of Melatonin

Condition Timing
Introductory dose 3 mg. General 5-7 pm.
Moderate dose 200 mg. IV use – research evening
Large dose 300 mg. women’s contraception study evening
High dose 3,000 mg toxicity study evening


The optimal dose seems to be between 100-500 mg. per day given in the evening prior to bedtime. Taking melatonin in the daytime may exacerbate light damage to receptors in the eyes. For safety sake, all tablets should be taken in the dusk or evening hours.


Increasing Melatonin Production

The following list are some common sense facts about melatonin productions. Following these suggestions may help increase the natural production during the course of the day.


1. Get more early light time. Sleeping in can blur the distinction between night and day and reduce the amplitude of general sleep/wake cycles.

2. Be physically active in the day and limit naps to no more than 30 minutes. Activity turns off melatonin production during the day and reasies core temperature.

3. Try morning workouts as opposed to afternoon. The pineal gland is like a clock which needs to be reset every day. Combining light and activity is the most effective way to reset this clock.

4. Avoid caffeine and limit alcohol in the evening.

5. Eat larger high protein meals in the day, and smaller carbohydrate meals in the evening. Carbohydrates promote the production and delivery of tryptophan to the brain, which is the raw material from which melatonin and serotonin are made.
6. Eat dinner several hours before bedtime. Digestions raises core temperature which is undesireable for sleeping.

7. Avoid hard mental or physical work after about 6 pm. Stress hormones indeuced by work interferes with the production of serotonin and melatonin.




References


1. Barnett, ER. (pub). Physician’s Desk Reference for non-prescription drugs. Medical Economics Co. 1990.


2. Herbert, J. The age of dehyroepiandrosterone. Lancet. 345:1193-94, 1995.


3. Lewis, A.E., Cloutre, D. Melatonin and the biological clock. Keats Good Health Guide. Keats Publishing, New Canoon, CT. 1996.

Avatar Written by Eric P. Durak MSc

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