did you know?
Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland. This is a pea-sized gland in the middle of your head. It is between your two cerebral cortices but outside the blood-brain barrier. During darkness when no light is transmitted to the pineal, it begins to secrete melatonin. This prepares the body for the sleep process. In the morning, increasing levels of light reverse this process through the retina to the hypothalamus (suprachiasmatic nucleus) to the adrenal pathway. This starts cortisol production.
Melatonin helps regulate the states between alert waking moments and subconscious sleep. Besides synchronizing our sleep-wake cycle, melatonin has other functions:
5 functions of melatonin:
1. It is a potent antioxidant, scavenging free radicals in the body and the brain. This helps the body heal and repair cell and tissue damage from the previous day.
2. It helps other antioxidants like CoQ10 and alpha-lipoic acid work more efficiently. This supports our immune system, helping fend off infections (both viral and bacterial), mop up cancer cells, and reduce the burden of autoimmune and chronic diseases.
3. It is also influential in managing autism spectrum disorders.
4. It helps convert short-term memory to long-term memory, and plays a role in memory loss associated with old age (as one ages, melatonin levels drop).
5. As a hormone, melatonin has a knock on effect on the rest of the hormone or endocrine system, influencing how efficiently glands like the thyroid, pancreas, ovaries and adrenals function. Women with low levels of natural melatonin for example are a higher risk in developing type 2 diabetes.
FIND IT IN HERBS
Melatonin is also found in nature, either in whole form or precursor form. Herbals that support melatonin levels include passion flower, feverfew and St John’s wort.
FIND IT IN FOOD
Food sources of melatonin are cherries, bananas, pineapples and oranges.
Melatonin supplements are either harvested from whole plants or created synthetically in a lab. When considering the use of a melatonin supplement please consult a trained practitioner to assess if it is appropriate to your particular needs.
Melatonin supplements work most efficiently when used in a way that mimics the natural order of life. If you take a melatonin supplement and then stare at your computer or TV screen, you are effectively canceling the supplement out - electronic light stimulates cortisol production. It works best as part of a sleep hygiene routine.
Yesheen Singh is a qualified medical doctor with a keen interest in integrative and functional medicine. His practice reflects a marriage of the technology and wisdom of western and eastern medical models, and focuses on the underlying contributors towards health imbalances. Find out more about him and Health Nation at www.healthnation.co.za or by emailing [email protected]