Do you take melatonin to help fall asleep? That’s pretty much the only function that most people associate with it. But there’s far more to it than getting quality ZZZZs. Melatonin plays several key roles that impact your health. If you thought melatonin was just for regulating your sleep-wake cycle and its levels fluctuate only because of light and darkness, keep reading.
Where is Melatonin Made?
Before I tell you about the 9 ways melatonin impacts your health, I have a bone to pick with many health blogs. Most articles on melatonin say that this hormone is produced in the pineal gland, located in the brain. Okay, technically, that might be true. Melatonin is indeed produced by the pineal gland and is the only hormone synthesized by this pea-sized organ.
But where it’s produced isn’t the main takeaway. It’s where it’s most abundant that matters. And according to a 2022 research study in Frontiers in Neuroscience:
“Melatonin is abundant in the gastrointestinal tract, with approximately 10–100 times more melatonin in the gastrointestinal tissues than in the blood and 400 times more in the gut than in the pineal gland.”
Did you get that? 400 times more melatonin is in your gut than in your brain. That’s another reason why it’s so important to optimize your gut health. If your gut microbiome doesn’t have enough friendly bacteria, you won’t have enough melatonin to support your sleep.
Melatonin: An Antioxidant Powerhouse!
Vitamin C. Vitamin E. Vitamin A. That’s probably what you think when it comes to antioxidants. But did you know your body has natural antioxidants? I’m not talking about antioxidant supplements you swallow, I’m talking about God-given internal ones you’re born with. And it turns out that melatonin is a potent antioxidant, perhaps even more so than glutathione, which is often called the body’s master antioxidant.
“Melatonin has been shown to markedly protect both membrane lipids and nuclear DNA from oxidative damage.” [SOURCE]
So what does that mean for you? A stronger immune system and more youthful-looking skin!
Melatonin For Bone Density
Is taking calcium the best answer for strong bones? Definitely not. Read this for my take on this topic. Instead, you should consider optimizing your vitamin D3/vitamin K2 levels and as recent research indicates, your melatonin levels.
This research says melatonin is more of a cell protector than a hormone. Ok, whatever, we don’t have to split hairs. The important thing from the study is that “Melatonin plays a positive role in bone-related diseases by exerting multiple effects.” I won’t go into the details but it seems to help with bone matrix regeneration (osteoblasts).
Melatonin For Cardiovascular Health
Sure, meditation is great for lowering blood pressure. But few people realize that so is melatonin. In fact, check out what this research concludes:
“In humans, exogenous melatonin has been shown to decrease nocturnal hypertension, improve systolic and diastolic blood pressure, reduce the pulsatility index in the internal carotid artery, decrease platelet aggregation, and reduce serum catecholamine levels.”
That’s a lot of geek speak. In plain English, here’s the translation:
Taking melatonin supplements has been found to lower high blood pressure at night, improve both the top and bottom numbers of blood pressure readings, make blood flow in the main artery of the neck smoother, decrease clumping of blood platelets, and lower the levels of stress-related chemicals in the blood.
Melatonin for Brain Health
Melatonin is made in the brain and it helps protect it. This 2019 research says:
“Recent advances in neuroscience and molecular biology have led to the discovery of new actions and effects of melatonin. In recent studies, melatonin was shown to have antioxidant activity and, possibly, to affect the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). In addition, melatonin has neuroprotective effects and affects neuroplasticity, thus indicating potential antidepressant properties.”
Melatonin For Mood Regulation
Okay, so this is probably directly related to how melatonin influences brain activity. As it says in the quote above, melatonin may have natural antidepressant actions. So it could play a role in mood regulation, potentially helping to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression, both of which can be exacerbated during “the changes” of perimenopause.
As I said earlier, most of your melatonin is actually in your digestive tract, not your brain. So it it makes sense that melatonin can help protect your gut lining.
“Melatonin can enhance the intestinal mucosal barrier, alter the composition of intestinal bacteria in favor of bacteria with anti-inflammatory properties.” [SOURCE]
This benefit of melatonin is indirectly related to what you already know about melatonin and how it helps with sleep. If your sleep quality is really poor, your metabolism can be disrupted and you may be more likely to give into middle-of-the-night cravings. In at least one study, melatonin has been shown to “significantly reduce body weight.” Diet pills? No way, try melatonin.
I’m still in my mid-30s so “the changes” are right around the corner. I will make sure my melatonin levels are optimized because melatonin’s influence on hormone regulation could offer some relief from symptoms like hot flashes and mood swings.
“Melatonin seems to improve physical symptoms in menopausal women,” concludes this research in the journal, Menopause.
How To Boost Melatonin Naturally
Some people can’t take melatonin supplements. Either it doesn’t help them sleep. Or there’s bad side effects. But I have a simple solution for you if melatonin supplements are out of the question: eat more turkey.
The amino acid tryptophan is a precursor to melatonin. That means if you eat foods rich in tryptophan, such as turkey, chicken, nuts, and seeds, it can indirectly boost your melatonin production. You should also eat foods loaded with antioxidants like berries and dark leafy greens.
Another way to increase melatonin in your gut is to do some breathing exercises. You don’t have to be a monk to meditate. All you need to do is sit or lie down for a few minutes and focus on breathing deeply and slowly. That’s it!
I got another easy solution: spend lots of time outdoors. Obviously, don’t get a sunburn. But don’t be afraid of exposing yourself to sunlight during the day. Expose your skin directly to the sun for 5-10 minutes in the warmer months and then spend as much time as you can outdoors. This will help support melatonin production at night.
And sorry to be a party crasher but try to limit your intake of alcohol, especially before bed. Booze interferes with your melatonin production.
Need help conquering menopausal symptoms? Get in touch with me. I now take insurance!
Until next time…
Jenna Witt, NP
Nurse Practitioner & Functional Medicine Practitioner