Melatonin has long been hailed for its health benefits, and the more researchers study the hormone, the more its broad range of abilities is revealed. Known as “the sleep hormone,” the power of melatonin goes far beyond simply regulating sleep patterns. Scientists believe it could also play a role in managing chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes, and that it may even promote bone health and reduce obesity. Most recently, it has been discovered that melatonin could help safeguard genetic material and protect against age-related disease and health decline. Here, we take a closer look at how the hormone works to boost wellness.
A Disease-Fighting Hormone
Free radicals are chemically reactive molecules which are linked to a host of diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer. We encounter them on a daily basis, as they are found in everything from the air we breathe to medications and foods. Reducing the volume of free radicals in the body is therefore critical to preventing and managing diseases. One of the ways the body fights off free radicals is through antioxidants, the substances that counteract them.
According to research, melatonin is a potent agent in antioxidative defense. It can enter any bodily fluid or cell and actively scavenge free radicals, and it also has the ability to influence circulation. In addition to fighting free radicals, melatonin can reduce the generation of these dangerous molecules and simultaneously protect critical functions of the cells.
Research also suggests that melatonin’s ability to prevent oxidative damage, specifically in brain cells, make the substance a prime candidate for treating conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Huntington’s disease, stroke, and brain trauma.
Where is Melatonin Found?
Melatonin was first discovered as a hormone of the pineal gland, but it is also produced elsewhere in the body. Specifically, the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is a rich source of the hormone, with its tissues holding 10-100 times as much of the hormone than the blood. The GI tract also has at least 400 times more melatonin than the pineal gland.
Certain types of food are also natural sources of melatonin, including ginger, rice, bananas, barley, sweet corn, and Morello cherries. Additionally, over-the-counter melatonin supplements are available, but it is recommended that anyone considering a supplement regimen consult their doctor. Certain individuals, including women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, may not be advised to take the supplement.