Melatonin: The Critical Hormone & How to Optimise It

Written by Dylan Smith

Melatonin is an essential hormone that provides a multitude of benefits throughout the human body.

Mistakenly it has been dubbed the hormone of sleep, but more accurately it is the "hormone of darkness," since it trains our circadian rhythms to the day and night cycles, a critical cycle to be aligned with for optimal health.

Since the 2017 Nobel Prize was won for "Circadian Medicine," volumes of research are now showing melatonin is important for many things other than sleep and jet lag.

What are the benefits of Melatonin on the body?

Melatonin maintains immunity, low melatonin means a weak immune system which makes you susceptible to many illnesses. Melatonin is the best anti-cancer hormone because it is vital for optimal immune function.

It is the body’s most potent antioxidant as declared by numerous studies. Melatonin scavenges for free radicals, stimulates genes to turn on other antioxidant systems, has access to any and every cell in the body and easily crosses the blood-brain barrier.

The process:

  • During sleep, all your brain cells shrink from 40-60%, creating room in the brain for melatonin to flood in and bind to all the oxidative stress and free radicals.
  • It then sweeps this oxidative stress (that ages us) out through cerebrospinal fluid, down into the circulatory system, for the liver and kidneys to process and eliminate out of the body.
  • Melatonin also floods through the lymphatics and detoxifies different organs throughout the night.

Melatonin also effects energy levels and mitochondrial health. To understand this we need to understand mitochondria. Mitochondria are the energy generators for every cell, melatonin makes life easier and more efficient for these energy generators.

  • When melatonin is removed from your brain, you loose DHA in cell membranes.
  • DHA is the only lipid that can turn sunlight into DC electric current and visa versa.
  • The DC electric circulates through your body to provide you with energy.
  • DC current also counters inflammation (DC current is a negative charge and inflammation is a positive charge).
  • Note that stress also reduces DHA. Studies here.

Melatonin helps to maintain Circadian Rhythms and regulates all other hormones, since all hormones are connected like a web, especially reproductive hormones and hormones related to metabolism and appetite. This in turn leads to better sleep, better cognitive health, brain health and weight loss. Melatonin is a direct antagonist to cortisol. When melatonin is up, cortisol (stress) goes down. Numerous studies show this (3),(4),(5).

Studies showed that melatonin helps in the treatment of bone pathologies such as osteoporosis and adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS). It aslo may prevent bone degradation and promote bone formation.

It assists maintain a healthy microbiome. Our gut bacteria are regulated by our circadian clock and are sensitive to melatonin, which is secreted into the gastrointestinal lumen, expresses circadian patterns of swarming and motility. Studies suggest the human circadian system may regulate its microbiome through the entrainment of bacterial clocks.

Blood sugar, metabolic health and cravings are also regulated by Melatonin. Studies showed that Melatonin regulates insulin secretion and protects against reactive oxygen species which are a threat to pancreatic β-cells (the cells that do the job of storing and releasing insulin).

β-cells are very susceptible to oxidative stress because they possess only low-antioxidative capacity.

Low melatonin levels will cause high insulin levels and high dopamine levels which causes stress (cortisol) along with an increase in cravings, addictions and metabolic disorders.

Strong cravings for carbohydrates in the summer is a natural circadian response to prepare for the famine or lack of food during the darkness of winter. (1)

When we light our homes with artifical blue light for an extra 5-6 hours after sunset, we are sending the “endless summer” message to our cellular biological clocks that it is time to crave carbs in preparation for the famine of winter. This carb craving can last for 365 days a year.(2)

It is not just your eyes that initiate melatonin production, there are receptors in your skin too.

Melatonin is mostly produced after the retinal ganglion cells in our eyes perceive light. Interestingly however, there are also photo-pigments on the skin all over the body can detect different types of light and sync peripheral rhythms with the light and dark cycle.

Neuroxin is a UVA receptor present in our skin and eye that gets stimulated by light. This receptor was only found in 2009.

This is why even blind people can still have a diurnal rhythm in sync with the light/dark cycle.


Artifical blue light destroys melatonin, not only does it lower melatonin, but when we are watching our computers or TV at night, or checking our emails at or before sunrise, our dirunal clock becomes confused and all the hormones become disturbed (think of our hormal system like a web, all connected). As we learnt before, it is not only our eyes!

The skin receptors also get stimulated by artifical blue light. Surface photo-chemistry influences the tissues underneath. These spectrums can penetrate all the way to the fat tissue layer and cause free radicals, energy problems, and more.

Your thyroid only sits about half a cm under you skin. So the blue light is penetrating to the thyroid. People with hashimotos beware. Perhaps the most important remedy for low thyroid is nasya + watch the sunrise + get sunshine on your neck and protect your neck from fake blue light.

Ways to Optimise Melatonin:

Get Sunshine - Watch the sunrise and the sunset without sunglasses, glasses or contact lenses (as these alter a holistic light spectrum by blocking specific frequencies).

Sunbathe with as much bare skin as possible. Soak up the sun in moderationSlowly build your skin tolerance to the sun.


 

Proper Sleep - Melatonin is the hormone of darkness, it will rebuild while you are asleep. Be in bed before 10 pm, and wake up with the sun.

The latest Nobel Prize proved ancient wisdom by showing maximum melatonin production is between 10pm - 2am, which Ayurveda has been saying for thousands of years is the "Pitta time," where your body metabolises food, nutrients and hormones.

The catch is you need to be asleep for the production!

No Artificial Light at Night. Artificial light at night, even if it is ambient blocks the production of melatonin needed to get to sleep and stay asleep. Use candles or revolutionize back to incandescent light bulbs for night time.

Begin reducing blue and artificial light exposure starting at sunset, or 2-3 hours before bed. Make sure there are no lights on at night while you sleep. If necessary, use blackout curtains or an eye mask to block ambient light. Ensure you still get up at sunrise.

Go camping for a couple or few days without artifical light of electronic devices. That will do wonders.

Reduce LED Lights and Screens at Night. Don't look at your phone first thing when you wake up, do your morning routine before touching that thing.

Reduce TV and computers at night time and 2 hours before bed. We are not biologically wired at all to be exposed to such high light temperatures while the sun is not up.

Use filters on your computer, make your phone screen "most warm" 24/7 and use blue light blocking glasses.

Nasya is the practice of sniffing herbal oil up your nose to your pineal gland to detox the pineal gland and activate it's functions of jobs like initiating melatonin secretion.

Learn more about Nasya here.

Melatonin Rich Foods:

  • Goji berries (very high source).
  • Cherries, espeically tart cherries. Tart cherry juice has been studied to help sleep.
  • Walnuts and almonds.
  • Flaxseeds
  • Tomatoes
  • Fenugreek and mustard seeds
  • Raspberries
  • Bed Time Milk Elixir - Whether its milk from mother, cow or goat, studies show it boost melatonin.

(3)

Reduce Coffee - Logic will tell you that caffeine as a stimulant will inhibit melatonin production—and it does.  Studies suggest that at night the caffeine will block melatonin production. This supersedes the constituents in coffee that actually help boost melatonin levels.

Always eat in season since all food absorbs light and you will consume the appropriate dose of electrons and meltatonin.

Supplements - I recommend you only consider supplementation after you have tried all the natural interventions above.

Those who work night shifts or very long hours, people who fly frequently and people who still struggle with sleep should consider this.

Assess whether you need a time-release or immeditate melatonin. Get quality supplements here.

Although you can get melatonin from foods and man-made pills, sunlight is the most dominant synchroniser of melatonin production. Get more sun.

References

  1. T.S Wiley. Lights Out, Sleep, Sugar and Survival. Atria Books, New York. 2000
  2. https://nutritionfacts.org/2014/04/03/foods-with-natural-melatonin/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4352910/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3001215/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3742260/https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12640-012-9337-4

Credits:

  1. Dr. John Douillard, Lifespa.com
  2. 1cm^3 contains by Alexander Wunsch
  3. Melatonin Graph: Sandhills Neurologists
  4. Old-Clock photo - Fabrizio Verrecchia
  5. City Lights - Mike Wilson
  6. City Lights Disney - Denys Nevozhai