The Benefits of Melatonin Go Far Beyond Just Sleep

by Dr. Susan Tanner, MD

Melatonin is well-recognized as a natural sleep aid.  While as a supplement it is quite effective for sleep, melatonin’s antioxidant impacts and benefits for neurological, mitochondrial, and immune system function may be much more widespread and far-reaching.  First, let’s back up and start with an overview of what melatonin is, and where it is produced.

Melatonin Basics

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland, which is located in the middle part of the brain and other organs as well: skin, retina, bone marrow. Its production is closely related to our sleep/wake cycles (and light exposure); therefore, in the morning melatonin levels tend  to drop, while levels rise in the evening as we prepare for sleep. When the sun goes down, and we are getting ready for bed, melatonin is released to produce a relaxing state in the mind and body.  (Studies show that serum levels peak between 2 AM and 5 AM.) The level of this hormone can be easily affected by several things, including the waking and sleep cycle you set for yourself  (your unique circadian rhythm), along with the amount of light that you get each day. Since the body’s internal clock is quite sensitive, even slight fluctuations in melatonin levels may have noticeable effects on your mood, appetite, energy, sex drive, ability to fight off illness, and more.  There is also some scientific literature to suggest that decreased melatonin production increases a person’s risk of developing certain cancers and heart disease.

Melatonin and Weight Loss

Studies are now showing that melatonin increases the amount of brown adipose tissue or “beige fat” which uses energy rather than storing it, like other fat cells do.  More energy-burning fat, in turn, reduces the body’s storage of white visceral fat in the abdominal region which is both visible as “belly fat” and accumulates around internal organs…. not desirable!  White visceral fat is quite common in people who develop type 2 diabetes and is related to the subsequent vascular and heart issues that may occur. Further, melatonin has been shown to increase thermogenic processes in the body that raise the metabolic rate and cause the body to burn additional energy. Thus, people with optimal production of melatonin seem to have faster metabolisms and the ability to utilize fat for energy much more efficiently.

Anticancer Therapy with Melatonin

According to a report published in the Pineal Gland and Cancer Journal, breast and prostate cancer, specifically, have been shown to react negatively to the presence of melatonin in the body. This chemical can force these cancerous cells to undergo apoptosis (programmed cell death), without damaging the healthy cells surrounding them. Melatonin is thus being used effectively in much higher doses as an adjuvant cancer therapy to protect healthy cells against the toxic effects of both chemotherapy and radiation.

Melatonin and Immune Health

You may have read recently of the addition of melatonin in prevention of COVID, or at least the reductions in symptoms should you contract this virus. Many studies have found that this hormone is also connected to the immune system. Melatonin appears to support the thymus gland, which is essential for immune system strength. The antioxidant effects further relieve stress on the body’s defenses.

Speaking of antioxidant effects, this is how, in part, how melatonin may help support cardiac health. Melatonin plays a crucial role in major pathological processes associated with heart failure including ischemic injury, oxidative stress, apoptosis, and cardiac remodeling. Additionally, it has a systemic anti-inflammatory effect and is a precursor to glutathione production in the body, which is arguably the body’s most powerful antioxidant for maintaining health and longevity.  Inflammation being the underlying problem in not only cardiac but most other chronic health problems, melatonin seems to be a helpful adjunct in heart disease prevention and cardiovascular health management.

Melatonin and Mold-Triggered Illness

When mold mycotoxins are inhaled repeatedly, like in the case of living in moldy home or working in a water-damaged building, pituitary and thyroid function can become impaired. The body, unable to clear the constant influx of toxins, launches into a series of inflammatory responses designed for protection. But, unless the toxic assault stops and the toxins can be cleared, the inflammation continues and becomes chronic, like in the case of CIRS or chronic inflammatory response syndrome. The combination of the inflammation and stress on all systems in the body, plus the mold toxins potentially colonizing the sinus tissue in turn negatively impacts hormone production, including the production of melatonin. The decreased melatonin production not only begins to then impact sleep (falling asleep, staying asleep, and sleep quality), but also further impacts detoxification.

Many mold-literate practitioners even argue that melatonin’s antioxidant properties are as powerful as those of glutathione for mold-harmed patients because of melatonin’s importance when it comes to the glymphatic system and the cleansing of the central nervous system and brain while you are sleeping. Without proper levels of melatonin flowing through the body at night, cortisol levels (cortisol is the daytime hormone) remain high, and the brain does not properly detoxify.  This can become especially problematic for patients with mold toxins (mycotoxins) stored in their fatty tissues. The brain (which is 60% fat), if not detoxifying, can become more and more toxic over time and can lead to more and more neurological symptoms, like brain fog, poor coordination, cognitive dysfunction, chronic fatigue, irritability, and more.

Low Melatonin and Bladder Dysfunction

Melatonin also helps in reducing spasms and contractions of the smooth muscles of the bladder, which, in some, produces frequency, urgency, and painful urination as well as incontinence.  This may be part of the bladder dysfunction that occurs with aging, as natural melatonin production seems to decrease with age.

Supplementing with Melatonin

While I haven’t covered every nuance for the reasons why you should care about melatonin and  optimizing its natural production in your body, I think you get the idea. But with today’s world and the constant stress, light exposure, and screen time we experience, doing just that can be difficult for many of us. Thus, supplementing can be an initial way for someone to set themselves on a better path.

For years, melatonin has been available over the counter as a supplemental sleep aid but with little guidance for the consumer.  Thus, many who purchased it did not gain benefit and may have experienced the vivid dreams, daytime grogginess, and brain fog that happens with non-individualized dosing or instruction on how to use it.  The pharmaceutical industry also recognized some of the benefits of melatonin and created expensive melatonin-based prescription products.  Often these medications are described as exhibiting a more specific type of hormonal activity, but clinical observation has been that these products may have more side effects and less tolerability than simple over-the-counter forms of melatonin, so, in my opinion, the increased cost is normally not worth it.

Dosage of melatonin, especially when using it specifically for sleep may vary tremendously from one person to another.  Part of the initial problem with this hormone is that it is commonly available in 3 mg or higher doses.  This is actually too much for most people to begin with. For my patients, I generally start with 0.5-1 mg and gradually increase from there.  Sometimes no increase is needed, and a grown adult does fine with 0.5 mg, a fraction of the amount in many supplements. There definitely are practitioners using melatonin in much higher doses for patients undergoing cancer treatments or in other situations when cellular damage is indicated, but so far, I have seen great results with the less is more approach.

Can you become dependent on melatonin as with other drugs? Melatonin is not habit forming and chemical drug dependency does not happen. However, as with anything you take regularly, if you leave it off after taking it for some time, it is likely that you will not sleep well and notice the difference.  There has also been some concern that taking melatonin may suppress the body’s own ability to form it. There is no scientific evidence currently to support that negative “feedback loop” hypothesis.  We do believe, however, that using modest doses to the extent needed for effect may enhance one’s own production.

Supplemental Melatonin Side Effects

For all its safety in general, there are still some individuals who may not tolerate or do well with melatonin even in low doses. The complexities of the human body should always be a consideration; thus, I would never say that melatonin supplementation is good or right for everyone in spite of the many benefits that it appears to have.  Individualized treatment is always the best option.  Side effects, when they occur, may include the following:

  • Vivid dreams –  While not dangerous these may be disturbing and may be dose related;
  • Morning or daytime grogginess- Again may well be related to the dose, but there are some individuals who do not tolerate even small amounts;
  • Worsening depression-  Melatonin affects serotonin levels in the brain. In general, it is thought to increase or improve levels, but brain balance, again, being so individualized, cannot conform to a one-size-fits-all therapy;
  • More wakefulness instead of sleepiness-  Rare but it happens, again, likely due to an individualized response of other hormones coming into play.

For adults, the typical starting dose is 0.5 to 1.0 mg of melatonin at bedtime.  This can be increased to 2-3 mg if no benefits and no side effects are noted after a few days.  Some patients safely and effectively take 5-10 mg. Alternative cancer treatment centers will many times recommend 20 mg and more, but this is not the norm for general and especially sleep-time use. Of course, if melatonin is being used for sleep, it is best to use it in combination with other sleep recommendations mentioned in previous articles including cessation of television and blue light from phones and tablets at least one hour prior to bedtime, and keeping the room cool and dark.

If you purchase melatonin, I recommend only brands with third-party certification, meaning that the brand has been tested for purity and truth in labeling by a third party. You may want to try Wellevate and see the below brands available on this site, all third-party certified. Here are some I recommend:

  • ProThera Melatonin Lozenge 1 mg;
  • DaVinci Liposomal Melatonin Spray;
  • Pure Encapsulations Melatonin 0.5 mg.

Another company that carries good melatonin products is NuMedica.  You can go to their site and use practitioner code 40568 to peruse the catalog and see the Melatonin available there.

Finally, to support the pituitary in doing its job so that your body can resume making melatonin at optimal levels on its own, a homeopathic supplement like CellTropin can be both helpful and beneficial. CellTropin promotes cellular recovery and healing, especially for people who have been compromised by mold. Its proprietary formula provides pituitary, circulatory and DNA support to improve cellular healing and turnover from immune system stress & environmental toxins. With homeopathic pituitary 3x, 6x, 12x, and 30x to normalize hormone deficiencies, Arginine to support improved circulation, and astragalus root to decrease the DNA damage, CellTropin can be the added support and stimulation that a sluggish hormonal system needs to properly heal.

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