Most people know that melatonin is important for sleep, but did you know it is also an important anti-cancer hormone? That’s right! Melatonin is critical for Natural Killer cells surveillance of cancerous cells1. Production of melatonin declines as we age such that by age 40, we have only half the levels we had at age 20, and by age 60 we have very little at all2. The release of melatonin from the pineal gland is also an important trigger for the release of growth hormone from the pituitary gland3. As we age, growth hormone is important for tissue repair and healing, hence I generally recommend a small amount of melatonin to patients over 40 regardless of whether they have issues with sleep.
Pineal gland production of melatonin is very sensitive to light exposure. Even small amounts of light during the 10PM to 2AM time period will reduce production, including phones, computers/tablets, television and bright clock radios. Production is also reduced in times of stress, particularly if cortisol is elevated at night. Symptoms of melatonin deficiency include unrefreshing sleep, altered sleep-wake cycles, overactive mind at night, hot feet at night, sudden awakening at night, as well as depression and anxiety including Seasonal Affective Disorder.
You can raise your melatonin production with a protein/carb bedtime snack such as a banana and milk, or by a drop in body temperature as occurs after a hot bath. Supplements of melatonin come in a wide variety of doses. Sublingual (under the tongue) is better than oral tablets. Start with a very low dose such as 0.5mg per night one hour before bedtime. Keep increasing the dose until sleep is deep and refreshing. If you experience grogginess, headache, or vivid dreams, back down on the dose. Other supplements which can help you manufacture melatonin include 5HTP 50-100 mg, tryptophan 100-200 mg, or methionine 500-1000 mg. Your levels of melatonin can be tested either with a saliva test, or a first morning urine level of 6-hydroxy-melatonin, but be sure to stop your supplements for 3-4 days prior to testing.
If you have any questions about melatonin or any other hormones, contact my office today for an evaluation.
Your partner in Living Longer Better,
Dr Grant Pagdin MD
1. The role of melatonin in immuno-enhancement: potential application in cancer
Int J Exp Pathol. 2006 Apr; 87(2): 81-87 doi: 10.1111/j.0959-9673.2006.00474.x
2. Human melatonin production decreases with age. J Pineal Res. 1986;3(4):379-88.
3. Melatonin stimulates growth hormone secretion through pathways other than the growth hormone-releasing hormone. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 1993 Aug;39(2):193-9.
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