Did you know that the gut has 400 times more melatonin than the pineal gland in the brain, and that melatonin buffers cortisol and can inhibit over-stimulated cortisol production?
New research suggests melatonin protects against viral and bacterial infections, reduces oxidant stress and inflammation. It slows aging, improves menopausal symptoms and improves brain function as you age. A number of researchers have used melatonin as an adjunct with chemotherapy and found it reduces side effects and increases the effectiveness of chemo as well.
Other than the gut and the pineal gland, researchers have found melatonin is also produced in the retina, skin, bone marrow and white blood cells. Melatonin, like other hormones, drops as we age so by the time we reach 40, chances are pretty good we're low, especially since the half-life of this amazing hormone is only 1 hour.
Like most people, I have always connected melatonin exclusively to sleep. Even though sleep has been described as our most powerful "anti-oxidant / anti-inflammatory agent", the benefits of melatonin go far beyond a good night's sleep.
I like to think of melatonin and cortisol as a type of yin and yang. Melatonin (the yin) helps us relax and repair; cortisol (the yang) keeps us alert, awake, on edge. Excess cortisol depletes melatonin. Cortisol reduces sex hormones; melatonin helps control the timing and release of hormones. According to gynecologist, Dr. Sara Gottfried, melatonin lowers excess estrogen and may prevent breast cancer. Low melatonin has also been linked to other estrogen dependent cancer, like endometrial cancer. She discusses the interrelationship of hormones like this: "High cortisol blocks or lowers the production of thyroid hormones, (particularly free T3), sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, growth hormone and melatonin. Over time if the adrenals no longer continue high output, cortisol will decrease."
Interestingly, low cortisol can hinder the conversion of serotonin to melatonin and cause sleep difficulty and high cortisol will cause melatonin levels to drop as well. Remember when your body is in a state of fight or flight and "cortisol rules", our immune system is compromised. On the converse, melatonin protects against viral and bacterial infections and even has a modulating effect for inflammatory cytokines like Th17, TNF-alpha and NF-kappa B.
So what are some anti-melatonin factors? Excess cortisol is probably the major one. However, bright lights at night, deficiencies of tryptophan and the other co-factors needed to make serotonin, and exercise at night cause melatonin to drop. Night time physical exercise can blunt the nocturnal surge of plasma melatonin, probably due to cortisol spikes. Another indirect factor for reduced melatonin is toxins. Toxins stimulate cortisol and inflammation which increase glutamate resulting in a decrease of both melatonin and serotonin.
There are natural ways to increase melatonin, but remember levels of melatonin drop as we age even if we are doing all the right things. Having said that, getting to bed by 10:00 and sleeping in a dark room will facilitate the release of melatonin. Relaxing and therapeutic forms of abdominal breathing have been shown to lower stress and cortisol and in turn raise melatonin. Also, we can take nutrients to facilitate the natural production of melatonin as well as supplement with melatonin directly. In terms of suggested melatonin dosage, between 3 mg to 10 mg seems adequate. As a caveat some people feel sluggish after taking melatonin. Taking small amounts over several hours or just reducing the dose generally takes care of that.
Even if you're just taking melatonin for a good night's sleep -cortisol and inflammation reduction, immune modulation, and increases in cognitive protection are good reasons to consider melatonin as part of your daily regimen.
Melatonin For Breast Cancer Prevention
March 14, 2016 from Dynamic Chiropractic magazine
Although still speculative, a considerable amount of research suggests it may be prudent to take a low-dose melatonin supplement an hour before bed-time to help prevent breast cancer once one reaches middle-age.
Several experimental studies have shown melatonin may inhibit cancer cell growth, and preliminary clinical studies have shown its anticancer property in human cancer patients.
Research done in 2004 provided ground-breaking clinical evidence that therapeutic doses of melatonin (given orally at 20 mg/day during the dark period of the day) could be used by patients with advanced solid tumors to improve survival, quality of life outcomes, and in some cases, achieve stable disease; as well as reducing many side effects of chemotherapy.
Melatonin For Breast Cancer Prevention
Reduces Estrogen and Progesterone Levels: melatonin affects the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian (HP) axis, which results in lower circulating levels of estrogen and progesterone. Overstimulation of estrogen is linked to breast cancer development, as well as breast cancer progression, in patients with estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer.
Aromatase Inhibitor: melatonin inhibits the aromatase enzyme that converts certain androgens (androstenedione, testosterone) into estrone and estradiol hormones, both of which are linked to breast cancer in cases of overstimulation, as well as the progression of estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer. Other natural aromatase inhibitors include indole-3 carbinol (found in cruciferous vegetables) soy isoflavones, and enterolactone and enterodiol (derived from the ingestion of ground flaxseed). Each of these aromatase inhibitors is associated with decreased breast cancer risk in various peer-reviewed, published studies.
Telomerase Inhibitor: Many tumor cells switch on their telomerase gene to produce the enzyme telomerase, which essentially makes cancer cells immortal and able to divide endlessly, by re-lengthening the telomere DNA at the end of the chromosomal chain. Melatonin has been shown to prevent cancer cells from preserving telomere length with each cell division by inhibiting the effects of telomerase enzyme.
As such, telomere shortening occurs in cancer cells with each cell division, which eventually leads to cells that can no longer divide. This reduces the tumor growth and prevents cancer cell immortality.
Immune Modulation: One study showed melatonin enhances the release of interleukin-2 (IL-2) and IL-2 receptor system, which is known to provide significant immune boost in fighting cancer. A number of clinical trials have shown a potentiation of the cancer-fighting effect of conventional cancer therapies when IL-2 was administered concurrently.
Melatonin Declines with Age and in Night-Shift Workers
It is well-known that the decline in melatonin secretion by the pineal gland begins shortly after the onset of puberty and that by age 50, melatonin levels are significantly lower than in one’s early teen years. Curiously, 50 years of age is approximately the time when breast cancer rates tend to escalate. Although breast cancer development is linked to various etiological factors, low melatonin may be one of them.
On a daily basis, the pineal production of melatonin follows a diurnal rhythm, with peak production at about 2 a.m. What is noteworthy is that a number of studies have shown circadian disruption of melatonin secretion, specifically in night-shift workers, is correlated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
Although still speculative, a considerable amount of research suggests it may be prudent to take a low-dose melatonin supplement (0.5-3.0 mg) an hour before bedtime to help prevent breast cancer once one reaches middle-age (e.g., beginning between ages 40-50). Oral supplementation has been shown to have important physiological effects and therapeutic benefits in various health challenges (e.g., insomnia, jet lag, adjunctive treatment of prostate and breast cancer, reduced side effects of chemotherapy). This practice may enable your body to capitalize on the breast cancer prevention mechanisms outlined in this article.
The Benefits of Melatonin Go Far Beyond A Good Nights Sleep