In 1917, Carey Pratt McCord and Floyd P. Allen observed that the feeding extract of pineal glands in cows helped lighten tadpole skin, leading to dermatologist Aaron B. Lerner and his colleagues isolated the hormone responsible from bovine pineal glands, as they thought it could help treat skin diseases, and called it melatonin.
Found in animals, plants and fungi, melatonin is a hormone instrumental in evolution, acting as an antioxidant against UV radiations from the sun. An essential hormone, melatonin controls the day-night cycle in animals and is often in conjunction with the sleep-wake cycles in humans.
Melatonin has proven to be useful in combating testicular, breast, uterine and prostate disorders.
It is also a subject of much interest to researchers as they are looking into its benefits regarding not only sleep disorders, but high blood pressure, depression, cancer therapy, high cholesterol, epilepsy, sudden infant death syndrome, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s, ageing, autism, and diabetes.
This has led to an increase in the amount of research involving the hormone – and thus, has allowed for more people to discover just how important it is for daily functioning (and otherwise).
Benefits of Melatonin
Melatonin is a quite useful hormone, with a wide array of benefits. Mainly, the primary function of melatonin is the regulation of circadian rhythms, with it being used in treating sleep-wake disorders.
The release of melatonin is effective in improving sleep latency and quality of sleep and is also helpful in other rhythm sleep disorders such as jet lag or late nights due to work reasons.
Since melatonin is capable of reworking electrophysiological processes related to memory, its receptors are generally associated with the process of learning.
Melatonin helps avoid neuronal death caused due to amyloid-beta protein, a neurotoxin that affects people with Alzheimer’s. It also prevents the conversion of amyloid protein into neurotoxin micro aggregates which hamper the functioning of neurons and cause the formation of neurofibrillary tangles, proving further useful in treating Alzheimer’s.
According to various studies, melatonin has headache-decreasing benefits as well, acting as an effective preventive measure for cluster headaches and migraines.
Owing to its antioxidant nature, melatonin acts as a defensive reinforcement in the gallbladder. It helps convert cholesterol to bile, enables greater mobility of gallstones from the gallbladder, and prevents oxidative stress.
The dermatological benefits of melatonin are that it serves as a radioprotective agent. Since 70% of biological damage is caused by ionizing radiation due to free radicals, melatonin works in our favour by scavenging the free radicals.
Melatonin also acts as an anti-ageing agent, as it helps to neutralize oxidative damage and delays the neurodegenerative process of ageing.
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Sources of Melatonin
Melatonin is found in a variety of common everyday food items like olive oil, wine, vegetables and fruits such as tomatoes, grape skins, cherries, orange bell peppers, walnuts and flaxseeds.
However, melatonin is generally administered orally, through supplements that are available on providing a prescription. It is often available in the form of dietary supplements and can be found easily online.
Deficiencies of Melatonin
The decrease in the release of melatonin is responsible for causing nighttime activity, leading to an increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease. This is because in patients suffering from coronary diseases, the nocturnal melatonin levels have been observed to be much lower than that of a healthy person.
A deficiency in the production of this hormone can lead to a lot of problems, ranging from anxiety and mood disorders, insomnia, lowered basal body temperature, increased estrogen/progesterone ratio, to immune suppression.