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Melatonin is a hormone that is created in the human pineal gland, a pea-sized gland located just above the middle of the brain. Part of its crucial role is to regulate the circadian rhythm and therefore modulate the sleep-wake cycle.

 

As well as reducing the time it takes to fall asleep and improving the quality of sleep, melatonin may also be effective at reducing anxiety.  A paper entitled “Facilitation of Benzodiazepine Discontinuation by Melatonin” states that, “controlled-release of melatonin may effectively facilitate discontinuation of benzodiazepine therapy while maintaining good sleep quality.” Benzodiazepine is prescribed by doctors for disorders such as anxiety and insomnia. Yet ironically, as reported by Drugs.com, “unusual sleep behaviors and anterograde amnesia may occur” as a potential side effect of taking the drug. And because sleep is an absolutely essential state that gives the body the down time it needs to heal, melatonin offers many more benefits beyond reducing anxiety and giving you a good night’s sleep.

 

The Healing Power Of Melatonin

Antioxidants, such as melatonin, are powerful molecules that harbor the ability to neutralize rogue and damaging molecules within the body known as free radicals. Free radicals inflict biological distress in the form of oxidative damage. According to the Center for Environmental and Health Science in Sydney, Australia, “Evidence is accumulating that most of the degenerative diseases that afflict humanity have their origin in deleterious free radical reactions. These diseases include atherosclerosis, cancer, inflammatory joint disease, asthma, diabetes, senile dementia and degenerative eye disease.”

 

A paper from the University of Texas Health Science Center explains that, “Melatonin’s functions as an antioxidant include: a), direct free radical scavenging, b), stimulation of antioxidative enzymes, c), increasing the efficiency of mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation and reducing electron leakage (thereby lowering free radical generation), and 3), augmenting the efficiency of other antioxidants.”

The paper goes on to add that, “There may be other functions of melatonin, yet undiscovered, which enhance its ability to protect against molecular damage by oxygen and nitrogen-based toxic reactants.”

 

Oxidative stress caused by free radical damage is a likely contributor towards numerous neurodegenerative diseases. A paper from Ankara University in Turkey states that, “Oxidative stress has been implicated in the development of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, epileptic seizures, stroke, and as a contributor to aging and some cancer types.” In the paper, aside from remarking on melatonin’s “free radical scavenger and antioxidant properties,” the author also notes its ability to regulate the activity and expression of other antioxidant and pro-oxidant enzymes.

 

Because of this property in particular, melatonin has shown promise as a potential cancer treatment for various forms of the disease. Researchers at the University of Cantabria in Spain released a paper which explores the link between breast cancer and the oncostatic (anti-carcinogenic) actions of melatonin. The authors of the study state that melatonin “regulates the activity of the aromatases, the enzymes responsible for the local synthesis of estrogens, thus behaving as a selective estrogen enzyme modulator.”

 

This ability to control the production of estrogen means melatonin is promising as a potential treatment for cancers that are dependent upon excess estrogen, such as certain types of breast cancer. The authors of the University of Cantabria study conclude that, “The same molecule has both properties to selectively neutralize the effects of estrogens on the breast and the local biosynthesis of estrogens from androgens, one of the main objectives of recent antitumor pharmacological therapeutic strategies. It is these action mechanisms that collectively make melatonin an interesting anticancer drug in the prevention and treatment of estrogen-dependent tumors, since it has the advantage of acting at different levels of the estrogen-signaling pathways.”

 

This multi-functional and powerful pineal hormone has also shown to be effective at limiting prostate cancer cell growth. The University of Texas Health Science Center published a paper that opens with the statement: “Melatonin, the main secretory product of the pineal gland, inhibits the growth of several types of cancer cells. Melatonin limits human prostate cancer cell growth by a mechanism which involves the regulation of androgen receptor function but it is not clear whether other mechanisms may also be involved.”

 

The study involved a number of both androgen-dependent and independent prostate cancer cells which were treated with melatonin. It was found that both types of cells reduced in number and ceased cell cycle progression. The authors of the paper conclude that, “Melatonin markedly influences the proliferative status of prostate cancer cells.”

 

Furthermore, a review published by a team based at McMaster University in Canada, which analyzed randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of melatonin in solid tumor cancer patients, also found the hormone to be highly beneficial. In particular, the researchers looked at how melatonin affected the survival rate during the first year of the disease. 10 RCTs and a total of 643 patients were observed. Based on the outcomes, the authors stated that, ”The substantial reduction in risk of death, low adverse events reported and low costs related to this intervention suggest great potential for melatonin in treating cancer.”

 

Maximizing Your Melatonin

Our bodies naturally produce melatonin, however, as mentioned previously, there are numerous factors that may restrict optimal production. Below are certain techniques that are proven to enhance our body’s ability to produce the hormone, as well as ways to prevent environmental factors from impairing it.

 

Meditate: The vast catalog of health benefits that this age old mental technique offers seems to be ever increasing. Boosted levels of melatonin appear to be another advantage that comes with the long term practice of meditation. A paper from Ulleval University Hospital in Norway documents a study that measured both plasma melatonin and blood serotonin concentrations in advanced male meditators before and after an hour long meditation. The authors conclude, “The findings suggest that advanced meditators have higher melatonin levels than non-meditators.” However, the researchers noted that the effect wore off after an hour and that, “Melatonin decreases during long meditation.” So if you’re looking to use meditation to boost melatonin, it may be best to keep your practice short and sleep sweet!