The Neuro-Protective Effects of Melatonin

by Jodi Cohen

Melatonin is your body’s natural sleep hormone that regulates and resets your sleep-wake cycles, known as circadian rhythms.

Melatonin also exhibits highly protective effects on brain tissue, playing a critical role in helping your brain detoxify, regenerate and heal.

A lack of melatonin almost always correlates with chronic disease. For example, decreased production of melatonin is frequently found in patients with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

Essential oils can be used to trigger the release of melatonin which helps your brain start detoxifying and also helps to heal your pineal gland so it might begin producing melatonin on its own again.

What is Melatonin?

Melatonin is released by your pineal gland, in the center of your brain, in response to environmental light-dark cycles.  As its release is light sensitive, Melatonin levels are low throughout the day and peak in the evening, telling us that it is time to sleep.  Melatonin levels fluctuate throughout the year as length of the night influences the duration of melatonin secretion.

Melatonin levels also shift with age.  For example, most infants do not produce consistent levels of melatonin until the age of 3 months, which helps explain why newborn sleep patterns can vary widely.  During adolescence, melatonin patterns shift again. Research shows that while most adults start to produce melatonin at about 10pm, teenagers release the sleep hormone later in the evening and thus tend to fall asleep later and be groggy  in the morning. Melatonin production is also found to decrease with age, correlating with an increase in chronic illness with age.

Melatonin is derived from the amino acid tryptophan (found in turkey and associated with fatigue) and the neurotransmitter, serotonin.   Melatonin is fat soluble, allowing it to easily travel throughout your brain and diffuse into cells and to protect against oxidative damage.  That said, not all forms of melatonin are able to cross the blood brain barrier. Essential oils and liposomal melatonin remedies (with super small molecules) continually prove more effective than melatonin consumed in pill form.

The effectiveness of essential oils in stimulating melatonin production could be due, in part, to the fact, that melatonin is produced in plants and defends plant cells as an antioxidant. Melatonin serves a similar antioxidant function in humans and has been used to treat a number of health conditions and diseases, including insomnia, Alzheimer’s and depression.

Melatonin for Sleep

Melatonin has been shown to help promote healthy sleep patterns – reducing sleep latency (the amount of time needed to fall asleep), boosting sleep efficiency (the percentage of time in bed spent asleep) and increasing total sleep duration.

Melatonin exerts both a hypnotic (sleep-inducing) and sedative (anxiety-relieving) effect to support your body’s natural sleep wake cycles.  Research has proven melatonin to be an effective treatment for several sleep related issues, including:

  • Insomnia: Research suggests that melatonin might provide relief from the inability to fall asleep and stay asleep (insomnia) by improving your total sleep time, sleep quality and how long it takes you to fall asleep. Research found that melatonin both greatly improved sleep quality and daytime alertness.

  • Jet lag: Evidence shows that melatonin can help prevent, reduce and improve jet lag symptoms, such as alertness, particularly when travelling east, as it resets the body’s sleep-awake schedule.  Melatonin works by helping re-synchronize the body’s circadian rhythms, helping the traveler adapt to the local time.

  • Shift work disorder: Some research suggests that melatonin might improve daytime sleep quality and duration in people whose jobs require them to work outside the traditional morning to evening schedule.

  • Sleep-wake cycle disturbances: Melatonin can help treat these disturbances in children with a number of disabilities.

  • Delayed sleep phase (delayed sleep-wake phase sleep disorder): In this disorder your sleep pattern is delayed two hours or more from a conventional sleep pattern, causing you to go to sleep later and wake up later. Research shows that melatonin reduces the length of time needed to fall asleep and advances the start of sleep in young adults and children with this condition.

Other Health Benefits of Melatonin

In addition to helping us induce sleep at low dosages so our brain can detoxify, Melatonin at higher doses serves as the strongest antioxidant in your body and a potent detoxifying agent.  For example, melatonin can protect both lipids and proteins against antioxidant damage, and can scavenge some of the most dangerous free radicals in the body.

Research demonstrates melatonin’s effectiveness at guarding the nervous system against degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS, and preventing debilitating migraines.

Antioxidant: Melatonin protects your brain cells by counteracting unstable molecules called “free radicals” that damage  your DNA and cells. Free radicals lack some electrons, so they steal electrons from other molecules and damage those molecules in the process. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, acting as a natural “off” switch for the free radicals by giving up some of their own electrons which breaks the damaging chain reaction.

Research found that melatonin increases your antioxidant enzymes and protects against oxidative stress and cell-damaging free radicals. Melatonin binds to and neutralizes free radicals, making them less harmful to your cells.In fact, melatonin has 200 percent more antioxidant power than vitamin E and is better than vitamins C and E in reducing oxidative damage.

Enhances Immune Function: Research suggests that melatonin is an immune-stimulant, enhancing both innate and cellular immunity. Melatonin helps regulate your immune function by signaling your immune pathway and by regulating intracellular levels of powerful antioxidants like Glutathione.  For example, research suggests that melatonin may inhibit cell death and detoxify the damage in cells. Melatonin has also demonstrated anti-carcinogenic properties, both fighting cancer cells and prevent those cancer cells from forming in the first place.  Melatonin has also been shown to slow the disease progression and decrease treatment side effects in patients with advanced stage cancers.

Supports Detoxification: Melatonin is the most effective and potent neuroprotective chemical in your brain and nervous system.  It can help your brain detoxify from viruses, bacteria, chemicals, mycotoxins (from mold) and parasitic biotoxins as well as heavy metals such as mercury, lead, aluminum, cadmium and even fluoride, which can impair function of the pineal gland. Melatonin has also been reported to protect cells against oxidative damage induced by electromagnetic radiation. One study describes melatonin as an effective “scavenger” that detoxifies the body, one cell at a time.  This process takes place in many parts of the body, particularly the eyes, bone marrow, the brain, as well as the digestive and the reproductive organs.

Supports Your Gallbladder: High concentrations of melatonin are found in the bile. Melatonin has many protective properties, such as converting cholesterol to bile, preventing oxidative stress, and increasing the mobility of gallstones from the gallbladder.

Activates Brain Regeneration: Research shows that Melatonin activates Brain Derived Neuropathic Factor, a protein that is responsible for the health, wellness and regeneration of nerve cells, leading scientists to conclude that melatonin can improve brain health on the cellular level and help regenerate brain cells.

Strengthens blood-brain barrier: Melatonin has been found to strengthen the barrier between the blood and the brain.  Research found that melatonin decreased permeability in the brain blood barrier and intracranial pressure.

Neuro protective: The disruption of melatonin secretion in the brain has been associated with the progression of chronic illness, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and ALS. A study compared mice that were given melatonin delayed the development of ALS symptoms and survived longer with less motor neuron degeneration.  For example, melatonin has been found to decrease cognitive deterioration in individuals with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, possibly by protecting brain cells from the toxic protein, beta-amyloid. What’s more, when melatonin is administered at the time of a stroke, it limits the area of brain tissue damage, decreased brain cell death, lessened behavioral deficits, and reduces the rate of stroke-related death.

Reduces Inflammation: Melatonin reduces tissue destruction during inflammatory reactions by helping to directly scavenge toxic free radicals and consequently reduce damage in all organs.  For example, free radicals contribute to your body’s inflammatory response and associated tissue destruction. Melatonin has been shown to prevent and reduce the upregulation of pro-inflammatory cytokines which can help to reduce brain swelling and brain cell death.

Supports Mitochondrial Function: Melatonin serves as an effective protection against toxins that attack the mitochondria of cells and help restore cells to their regular function.

Migraine Prevention: Research suggests that anti-inflammatory effect of melatonin reduces the frequency and amount and severity of migraines.  More than two thirds of those in the study experienced at least a 50% reduction in number of headaches per month. Additionally, the intensity and duration of headaches decreased.

Reduce Symptoms of Tinnitus: Melatonin may help reduce symptoms of tinnitus, a condition characterized by a constant ringing in the ears. Research found melatonin to be 150 times more effective at decreasing tinnitus symptoms than other drugs designed to treat the tinnitus.

Reduce Depression: Melatonin helps regulate your circadian rhythm which can reduce symptoms of seasonal depression.  Melatonin reduced symptoms of treatment resistant depression by 20%.

Supports Eye Health and Vision: The eyes help produce melatonin in response to exposure to light.  Melatonin is a key component for the development of eyes and a shortage of melatonin in early development can cause vision problems.

It has powerful antioxidant benefits that could help protect your retinas and lower the risk of eye diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration.  For example, melatonin has also been shown to protect eye cells from cell death and help with eye diseases, like glaucoma, by decreasing pressure in the eyes. Low levels of melatonin production might be one of the causes of glaucoma.

Stabilizes Blood Pressure: Research found that melatonin significantly decreased nighttime blood pressure, without modifying heart rate.

Balance Blood Sugar: New evidence is suggesting that the natural decrease in melatonin could be linked to the development of type 2 diabetes.  Low levels of melatonin are correlated with diabetes and diabetic neuropathies, even after body weight and diet were taken into consideration.  Melatonin can improve liver health and function and protect muscle cells from a toxin that causes insulin resistance and diabetes.

Low Melatonin Can Impact Gut Health: Melatonin supports the body’s immune system by resetting the balance of healthy bacteria in the small intestine.  Melatonin exists in the gut in levels that are about 400 times the level in the pineal gland in the brain where it acts as a modulator of bowel function. One study found that melatonin might impact the microbiota in the gut.  Melatonin, in combination with the hormone prolactin, triggers an immune response that regenerates the micro flora and epithelial lining in the small intestine to restore a healthy balance and negate the threat of viruses, bacteria, and other toxins in the body. Eight hours of sleep is optimal for this melatonin and prolactin production to occur.  Anything less does not allow these hormones to effectively balance the gut flora which is key to supporting the immune system.

Protects the stomach by Reducing Ulcers and GERD/Heartburn: The antioxidant properties of melatonin may help treat stomach ulcers and alleviate heartburn. A study found that taking melatonin helped heal stomach ulcers caused by the bacteria H. pylori faster.  Similarly, Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition caused by the backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus, resulting in symptoms like heartburn, nausea and belching. Melatonin may strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter, helping it to block the secretion of stomach acids. It also decreases the production of nitric oxide, a compound that relaxes your lower esophageal sphincter, allowing stomach acid to enter your esophagus. After 40 days of treatment, 100% of people taking the melatonin-containing supplement reported a reduction in symptoms compared to only 65.7% of the group taking omeprazole

Supports Hormones: Melatonin controls body temperature and female reproductive hormones, including the onset of puberty and the frequency and duration of menstrual cycles   Research also found that healthy melatonin levels optimize fertility, support ovarian health and healthy egg quality and production. What’s more, melatonin may help increase levels of Human growth hormone (HGH) which is vital to growth and cellular regeneration. Higher levels of this important hormone have also been linked to increases in both strength and muscle mass.

Autism: Children with autism have abnormal melatonin pathways and below-average physiological levels of melatonin.

Slows hair loss: Melatonin showed a significant reduction in in hair loss related to aging and in medical conditions, like alopecia and dermatitis of the scalp.

What Causes Low Melatonin Levels?

Melatonin is released by your pineal gland in response to your circadian rhythms, or sleep/wake cycles.  Any disruption in your circadian rhythms as a result of diet or lifestyle choices or toxicity in your pineal gland can throw off melatonin levels.

To restore optimal melatonin levels, you need to consider your circadian rhythms, your pineal gland and the interaction of other hormones, like cortisol, that can disrupt melatonin levels.

Circadian Rhythms

Every process in your body, from sleep to digestive and detoxification, follows a rhythmic or repetitive pattern based on a 24-hour cycle, known as your circadian rhythm.  Your circadian rhythm cycles your body between sleepiness and alertness over a 24-hour interval.

Your internal clock regulates key organs and systems, including your heart, lungs, immune system, and metabolism, as well patterns of brain wave activity, hormone production, cell regeneration and DNA repair.

More specifically, your body upregulates, or increases the response to stimulus, like your metabolism and self-defense functions, during the hours it expects to need them and down-regulates them during periods of rest.  During the active phase of the day, bile acids and nutrient transporters are regulated and more active, as is energy metabolism. Conversely, detoxification becomes more active during the rest phase. This helps explain why some physical and mental activities seem easier at certain times of the day and may impact the best times to eat your meals or take supplements.

An imbalance in the circadian rhythm can present with indicators such as:

  • Inability to fall asleep
  • Inability to stay asleep
  • Difficulty waking up in the morning
  • Not feeling well after sleep
  • Not recovering from physical activity
  • Drop of energy between 4 and 7
  • Headache only in day parts

Circadian Rhythm Disruptions

Your circadian rhythm is modulated by external cues such as sunlight and temperature. Darkness then signals your eyes to signal to your pineal gland to release melatonin, which makes your body tired.

Lifestyle choices like shift work, travel through different time zones, pulling an all-nighter and exposure to artificial light can disrupt your body’s natural circadian rhythms, throwing off your sleeping, waking and digestive systems, and resulting in health problems like:

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Hypertension
  • Insomnia
  • Jet lag
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Neurological disorders
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Social jet lag
  • Stroke

It can take time to get our melatonin levels back to their normal levels and restore your circadian rhythms.  Circadian rhythms can reduce your life expectancy. Age also makes you more sensitive to disruptions in the circadian rhythms.

What Blocks Melatonin Production?

Melatonin is known as the darkness hormone as darkness signals your pineal gland to increase melatonin secretion. Light exposure at night from artificial light from screens or devices like phones, computer, and television, inhibits this secretion and alters normal cycles of melatonin production.

Besides daylight, several other factors can decrease the natural production of melatonin, including anything that disrupts your pineal gland function.

Essential Oils to Support Melatonin

People often supplement with the melatonin hormone, which can help in the short term.  The challenge here is that the body, specifically the pineal gland, is supposed to make its own melatonin and external supplementation of the hormone sends the signal to the body that it is sufficient in melatonin production and actually reduces the body’s own production of the hormone.  In other words, it throws off the body’s own internal thermostat for self-regulation.

Topically applied essential oils can play a huge role in supporting the pineal gland to naturally release melatonin.  They can be especially powerful in supporting the brain as the brain is comprised primarily of fat and essential oils are fat soluble so they easily penetrate and assimilate into the system.

Circadian Rhythm™:  Melatonin is the key hormone to help us fall asleep.  It is typically released by the pineal gland in response to darkness, but modern toxins and artificial lighting can impede this release.  Circadian Rhythm™ blend can be applied around the base of the skull (apex of head, above ears and back of head) to help trigger the natural release of melatonin.  It should be noted that in addition to helping us sleep so our glymphatic system can operate, melatonin also serves as a powerful antioxidant and a potent detoxifier of the brain.  Melatonin can help the brain detoxify from viruses, as well as heavy metals such as lead and cadmium and potentially mercury.

Like any detoxification effort, it is important to help facilitate exit route prior to mobilizing toxins.  If you mobilize toxins without opening up channels for elimination, including taking binders like chlorella to help eliminate toxins, you risk making yourself feel worse.  CLICK HERE to learn more about gentle detoxification suggestions.

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About The Author

Jodi Sternoff Cohen is the founder of Vibrant Blue Oils. An author, speaker, nutritional therapist, and a leading international authority on essential oils, Jodi has helped over 50,000 individuals support their health with essential oils.

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