Many times my patients will tell me that they have problems sleeping – they either have trouble getting to sleep or they have problems staying asleep. Not surprising, generally around our late 40’s – 50’s we start to become deficient in melatonin, a hormone that regulates our sleep patterns. As we near age 60, melatonin stores decrease even further.
However, as I explain to my patients, the good news about melatonin is that recent research has shown that it may do much more than just help us get to sleep. It may guard against migraine, Alzheimer disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. It may even help cancer patients live longer. Making sure your melatonin stores are sufficient then is not only beneficial to your sleep but to your brain and immune system in general.
There are several ways we can remedy a melatonin deficiency and get our sleep and health back on the right track. First, let me explain more to you about the important role melatonin plays in your health.
MELATONIN AND YOUR HEALTH
Melatonin truly is one of the miracle hormones that the human body produces and has multiple benefits. It is a major antioxidant that goes after 2 of the most dangerous free radicals, hydrogen peroxide and hydroxyl radicals that can cause poor health.
Melatonin perhaps is best known, though, for its ability to help us get to sleep and relieving jet lag as it regulates the body’s internal time clock. Melatonin doesn’t stop there, though; it also has these other health benefits:
1. Neurological diseases: Alzheimer patients are almost always low in melatonin. Supplementation with it helps the increasing agitation syndrome called “sundowning” that can accompany Alzheimers. It helps Parkinson disease patients with movement and coordination as well as helps them sleep less restlessly. Prevents brain damage and fatal outcomes from strokes.
2. Heart protective: Melatonin helps normalize cholesterol levels and lowers blood pressure.
3. Fights cancer: Melatonin affects a number of cancers, breast, liver, lung, prostate, and brain metastases from other body location tumors. It also seems to counteract the toxic effects of chemotherapy such as anemia, heart damage, mouth sores, and fatigue.
4. Psychological ally: Melatonin can help relieve stress and anxiety, both of which are aggravated by lack of sleep.
5. Boosts Sex Drive: Melatonin is produced by your pineal gland, the same gland that regulates your sex hormones. If melatonin stores are low, most likely so are your sex hormones. Research has shown that supplementation with melatonin restores an interest in sex.
SYMPTOMS OF MELATONIN DEFICIENCY
Fixing a melatonin deficiency is rather easy. How do you know if you’re melatonin deficient? Most people age 50 and over will be somewhat, or greatly, deficient, in melatonin, the same as we can become deficient in other hormones like estrogen, testosterone as we get older. Younger persons are unlikely to be deficient in melatonin unless they have certain other health conditions that may herald deficiency (see below) and its usage.
The most common symptom of a melatonin deficiency is sleep disturbance, trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep, light sleep, lack of dreaming, daytime fatigue. However, some other signs and symptoms that may reveal possible melatonin deficiency can also include:
- Breast cancer
- Prostate cancer
- PMS and other menstrual disorders
- High blood pressure
- Heart rhythm disorders, heart attack
Your doctor can do a blood, urine, or saliva melatonin test to determine your deficiency.
INCREASING MELATONIN STORES/PRECAUTIONS
Supplementing with melatonin is relatively simple once you’ve determined that you are deficient in it. To remedy sleep disturbances, and boost general health, the common dose of melatonin to start is 1 mg up to 3 mg. Higher levels of supplementation, which can be done to augment treatment for other disease states, should only be done under a doctor’s supervision. Do let your doctor and/or pharmacist know that you are supplementing with melatonin, or eating foods that contain melatonin, especially if you take prescription medication to prevent interactions or affect the efficiency of your medication. Do not take with alcohol or sedative-type medications.
As noted above, there are also foods, which contain melatonin which you want to consider to prevent over-supplementation. Red tart cherries, especially Montmorency type, have significant levels of melatonin in them. Other foods contain tryptophan which raises serotonin levels and then convert into melatonin. These include milk, turkey, peanuts and chicken.
As I advise my patients, melatonin is a wonderful hormone that does miraculous things in the human body. However, I also caution my patients that it is a substance that needs to be used carefully to gain the most health benefit and prevent side effects of over-supplementation.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Melatonin: Not a Magic Bullet For Sleep, http://blogs.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/2011/02/melatonin-not-a-magic-bullet-for-sleep.html
Melatonin Deficiency, http://elliotthealthcare.com/melatonin_deficiency.htm
Melatonin: New Research, http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag2007/jun2007_nu_melatonin_01.htm
Are Cherries The New Wonder Fruit? http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6124646/ns/health-health_library/t/are-cherries-new-wonder-fruit/
photo credit: mattressdiscounters.com