What is Melatonin?
A lovely chemical intrinsically tied to our circadian rhythm…Many know it as a powerful sleep supplement, some with knowledge of its critical role in our health, while others know nothing of it at all. However, the functional capacity of this vital hormone is surprisingly extensive.
Melatonin has long been known to be a pervasive scavenger of free-radicals and protector against oxidative damage, but its role as an indirect antioxidant doesn’t stop there. For the most part, antioxidant enzymes are regulated depending on the oxidant status of the cell. However, melatonin has been found to have an influence on both cellular mRNA levels for these enzymes as well as antioxidant enzyme activity.
Over the years it has been determined that many disease states are either directly due to, or exacerbated by, high oxidative stress. In these situations, melatonin has proven to be an effective means of reducing the severity of disease and/or being a protectant against a vast array of conditions. As an indirect antioxidant, melatonin boosts activity of glutathione peroxidase – an enzyme family expressed in nearly all mammalian tissues whose primary role is protecting against oxidative damage. In fact, melatonin has shown an aptitude for stimulating gene expression for a variety of other antioxidant enzymes, as well as inhibiting the expression of genes such as ALA-S (Aminolevulinic acid synthase).
These benefits drove researchers to begin testing melatonin as a possible therapeutic agent in neurodegenerative diseases. Needless to say, melatonin didn’t disappoint.
Taking its protective effects to the next level, melatonin has been found to assist in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s & Parkinson’s, to protect against excitotoxicity, lower neural damage due to porphyria, reduce injury from ischemia-reperfusion (damage due to lack of oxygen), and protect against a variety of neural toxins. In fact, Alzheimer’s research pairing melatonin with varying blends of nutrients and activities found that the combination of melatonin plus physical exercise had a synergistic effect against numerous aspects of the disease – making significant headway in the battle against cognitive impairment.
These neuroprotective components are enhanced even further by melatonin’s versatility as an anti-inflammatory and anti-apoptotic agent (preventative against programmed cell-death). In a study from 2010, it was even tested as a means of preventing methamphetamine-induced cell degradation and death (necrosis), in which the results showed how truly effective melatonin is as a neuroprotectant.
Above & Beyond
The list of melatonin’s capabilities continues to expand as time carries on and technology allows for further, in-depth exploration. In an effort to keep this article brief, the following are additional attributes of this ever-intriguing and pivotal hormone:
- Protects against UV and radiation damage
- Helps regulate the immune system
- Required for dilation and contraction of blood vessels
- Has been explored as a means to help fight obesity
- Regulates hormone release
- Essential for reproduction, fertility and sexual maturation
- Used in treatment as well as prevention of various forms of cancer1,2,3,4
- Beneficial in treatment of numerous conditions
- Beneficial for maintaining balanced gut flora
- Has analgesic and sedative properties
- Anti-aging & longevity supplement
Many of these items can be linked back to melatonin’s foundational role as a sleep promoter, free-radical scavenger, indirect antioxidant, and regulatory hormone, which should underscore just how basic and fundamental it is to health and well-being.
- Korkmaz, A., Sanchez-Barcelo, E.J., Tan, DX. et al. Role of melatonin in the epigenetic regulation of breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res Treat 115, 13–27 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10549-008-0103-5
- García‐Santos, G., Antolín, I., Herrera, F., Martín, V., Rodriguez‐Blanco, J., Carrera, M.d.P. and Rodriguez, C. (2006), Melatonin induces apoptosis in human neuroblastoma cancer cells. Journal of Pineal Research, 41: 130-135. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-079X.2006.00342.x
- Panzer, A. and Viljoen, M. (1997), The validity of melatonin as an oncostatic agent. Journal of Pineal Research, 22: 184-202. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-079X.1997.tb00322.x
- Laboratory of Chrono-Neuroendocrine Oncology, Department of Structural and Cellular Biology, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, LA 70112, USA https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2008.07.007