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Mastering Longevity - Melatonin

Updated on January 12, 2011

Understanding Melatonin

When melatonin was first discovered, it was mainly thought to be a molecule involved in skin coloring of reptiles and amphibians (not to be confused with melanin though). Later it was discovered to be involved in the circadian rhythm in humans. Later it was discovered to be an anti-oxidant.

Today, we know that melatonin is created by the pineal gland while we are sleeping and in low light conditions. It is made from tryptophan, an amino acid found in turkey, milk and eggs. The production of melatonin is inhibited by (mainly blue) light, so if you are relying on natural melatonin, make sure you sleep in a darkened room or cover your eyes while sleeping.

Melatonin is a master hormone and stimulates the production of many other hormones. This increases the effectiveness of your immune system and can enhance your well being. Melatonin increases the production of human growth hormone (HGH) during sleep, while decreasing the production of testosterone. Overall, the effects of melatonin are positive to the body. Lastly, we are learning that melatonin can help you live longer.

This molecule could add a decade to your life
This molecule could add a decade to your life

Melatonin - The Sleep Hormone - Sleep Aids

The main use of melatonin is as a sleep aid. In the past, as it got dark, our pineal gland would start producing melatonin to make us sleepy. We have adapted to campfires as it is mostly blue light that inhibits the production of melatonin. Once dusk arrived, we would be ready to sleep after a few hours of twilight or darkness.

Today, with all our artificial lights, our pineal gland doesn't start producing melatonin until we actually turn off the lights and go to bed. One way to help your body begin producing melatonin before you go to bed is to use the last hour or so relaxing or watching television at a low light level. Make sure all extraneous lights are turned off and keep the room as dim as possible.

If you do use melatonin for sleep, the typical dose is about 1-3 milligrams. It takes about 20 minutes to start having an effect. Melatonin not only increase sleep, but can increase deep sleep. It may be this deep sleep that helps increase the level of HGH (human growth hormone).

Melatonin - The Longevity Hormone

Recently, melatonin is getting a lot of new attention. Melatonin is not only an anti-oxidant, but a type of super anti-oxidant (the other known super anti-oxidant is lipoic acid). When melatonin binds to a free radical it permanently sticks to it and eventually escorts it out of the body. This is unlike many other anti-oxidants that grab a free radical then release it somewhere else where it can still do damage. Melatonin protects both mitochondria and nuclear DNA.

The most spectacular studies with melatonin though have been done with mice. Middle aged mice given extra melatonin lived about 20% longer. Also, experiments were done with old mice that had pineal glands transplanted from young mice. These old mice were granted another 20-30% to their life spans. As for young mice, it can actually shorten life spans.

Potential Melatonin Side Effects

Melatonin can have side effects if taken in to large of doses. None of these are known to be serious even amongst people who have experimented with doses as high as 90 mg. per day. Most people only use between 1 and 3 mg. per day and there isn't really any reason to use more than that. A few rare people may need to use higher doses if they aren't absorbing melatonin efficiently as absorption rates vary greatly amongst individuals. The blood levels of melatonin from a 3 mg. pill exceed those of a healthy young person. Nevertheless, here are possible side effects that can appear if you take more than the recommended maximum of 3 mg. per day. These possible side effects include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Next day grogginess or irritability
  • Hormone fluctuations
  • Vivid dreams or nightmare
  • Reduced menstrual flow

Melatonin can also decrease libido and reduce the intensity of orgasms. If you are planning to have sex, you may want to wait till you are done before taking your melatonin. Some people use high doses of melatonin to decrease their levels of testosterone and sex drive. This may be useful if you are in school or somewhere you don't want to be distracted by your sex drive.

Melatonin can exacerbate the effects of SAD (seasonal affective disorder). If you suffer from SAD, make sure you get plenty of light during the day to prevent this. Taking melatonin at the wrong time of the day should be avoided if you are bipolar, but you should only be taking melatonin before sleeping anyway.

Another reason to avoid high doses of melatonin (over 3 mg. per day) is that your body can make a counter agent. It can also decrease the natural activity of your pineal gland, although older people often have an inactive or shrunk pineal gland already.

Melatonin - Conclusion

In conclusion melatonin should be in your array of techniques for staying young and healthy. Melatonin alone will not allow you to live to be a hundred, but it will definitely help you get there as part of a set of healthy habits. It is fairly inexpensive and you don't need to start using it until you reach your later years.

Just being aware of its importance to your overall health, can help you out. Eating foods high in tryptophan and getting enough sleep in a dark room will help you maximize your melatonin levels throughout life. The powerful anti-oxidant effects of melatonin will help protect your mitochondria from the ravages of free radicals over time.

Live long and prosper

Comments

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  • profile image

    xshaun 

    5 years ago

    Interesting and informative.

  • Silver Poet profile image

    Silver Poet 

    7 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

    Thanks! I didn't understand the way it worked. I thought melatonin was a bit of a downer and that people who couldn't sleep would benefit. I didn't know about all its other useful functions.

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