Deep, restful sleep is essential for a healthy immune system. It’s a foundational pillar of health, and is just as important as eating well and exercising. Sleep is absolutely vital for hormonal balance, keeping inflammation in check, and reducing stress levels. Melatonin is the hormone responsible for regulating sleep. Not only does it help you fall asleep, it helps you stay asleep throughout the night. Let’s talk more about the benefits of melatonin for chronic disease.
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What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone produced from the amino acid tryptophan. The pineal gland produces minute amounts of melatonin in the absence of light with levels peaking during sleep. Tissues in the central nervous system have receptors for melatonin, but the majority of melatonin is made in the gastrointestinal tract.
Interestingly, there is an elevation in melatonin after eating, which is one reason you may feel tired after a meal. Once melatonin is produced, it only stays in the bloodstream for up to 90 minutes. People with advanced cancer have been found to have lower levels of melatonin.
Melatonin regulates sleep, dictates circadian rhythms, has neurotransmitter modulatory activity, and opposes cortisol. When levels of cortisol are high in the morning, melatonin is low. The converse is also true, as the day progresses and cortisol levels wane, melatonin production increases. All of this happens if everything is functioning as it should.
If the body is in a stress response, cortisol levels will be all over the place. Instead of being high in the morning to get you out of bed, they may be low, and rather than being low at night to help you unwind and promote rest, they’re often high. This is an unfortunate scenario, resulting in more and more dysfunction if the imbalance continues.
How Does Inadequate Sleep Affect Health
In order to sleep soundly at night you need healthy levels of melatonin. The importance of sleep is often not given its rightful due, in fact, getting by on little sleep can even be a badge of honor. In reality, if you don’t sleep well, you’re compromising your health because of the toll it takes on the immune, endocrine, gastrointestinal, and central nervous systems.
Exercise, good nutrition, detoxification, and supplementation are all foundational pillars of health, but they’ll never be able to replace or make up for sleep deprivation. Sleep keeps the immune system in tip top shape, while dampening the stress response. When you’re chronically sleep deprived, your body perceives this as a stress, which negatively impacts cortisol levels.
Cortisol is an anti-inflammatory hormone that helps to regulate blood pressure and glucose metabolism. Both high and low levels of cortisol are problematic. Being in a chronic stress response keeps the body in a state of alert, with accompanying high cortisol levels. Overtime, as the body fails to compensate, high levels of cortisol lead to low levels of the hormone that present as blood sugar swings, fatigue, and low blood pressure.
High cortisol leads to all sorts of dysfunction in the body, including a breakdown of the mucosal lining in the small intestine, which houses 80% of the immune system. An unhealthy gut leads to compromised immunity, inflammation, and hormonal imbalances, all of which are a setup for poor sleep.
Poor Sleep And Inflammation
Imbalances in cortisol and melatonin can eventually lead to a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation, cytokine production, inflammation, gut degradation, and poor immunity, further inhibiting sleep quality – and the cycle repeats itself. If poor quality sleep promotes inflammation, that means sleep deprivation is a precursor to chronic disease and inflammatory pain syndromes.
The inflammation I’m referring to is chronic inflammation. Acute inflammation is a protective response that is necessary and short lived. Inflammation is problematic when it become chronic.
Benefits Of Melatonin
Melatonin has benefits far beyond being a powerful sleep aid and jet lag preventative. It’s also an antioxidant so if you’re not making enough of it, your body won’t be able to fight the effects of oxidative stress and free radical damage.
Melatonin insufficiency is implicated in disease states due to its adverse effect on immune function, which is significant because a strong immune system is what will ultimately prevent cancer and chronic disease. Since the vast majority of melatonin is made in the GI tract, if gastrointestinal health is sub par, melatonin levels will be low.
- Reduces the frequency and duration of migraines
- Decreases oxidative stress and free-radical damage
- Reduces inflammation and chronic disease
- Prevents or alleviates tinnitus
- Dampens the stress response
- Lowers cholesterol levels and promotes cardiovascular health
- Protects the esophagus from excess acid
- Prevents insulin resistance and type II diabetes by regulating insulin
- Promotes eye health
- Prevents certain types of cancer, including breast and prostate cancer
Sleep And Cancer
High-dose melatonin is used as an adjunct cancer treatment because of its effect on the regulatory processes in the body. It’s also used to slow the progression of autoimmune diseases, and is gaining attention in its ability to extend life span, and treat age-related diseases. It’s also a potent antioxidant.
Melatonin inhibits the growth of cancer by producing interleukin-1 and interleukin-2. The former prevents microbial infections, and the latter regulates T and B cells. Interleukin-2 governs natural killer cells, immune cells responsible for destroying cells that could potentially turn cancerous. Low levels of melatonin are implicated in cancer-risk.
Using high doses of melatonin to treat cancer is not widely known as it’s not in the pharmaceutical companies’ best interest to promote an efficacious, yet inexpensive treatment.
In addition to its favorable effect on immune function, melatonin also protects against the negative side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, and accelerates wound healing following surgery.
Ongoing clinical trials have been conducted demonstrating how melatonin can be used to manage symptoms associated with cancer and its treatment, while decreasing mortality rates.
Melatonin And Apoptosis
Because melatonin is both fat and water soluble, it can easily penetrate cell membranes. Melatonin is a mild chelator and free-radical scavenger, decreasing oxidative damage to proteins and DNA.
Melatonin directly eradicates various types of tumor cells by inducing apoptosis, or programmed cell death, while inhibiting tumor and cancer cell growth.
One mechanism by which melatonin inhibits cancer growth is by lowering body temperature. It also inhibits angiogenesis or the development of new blood vessels, which in turns prevents metastasis. Melatonin slows cancer progression by activating the cytokine system, and stimulating macrophage and monocyte activity.
Many cancer patients don’t die of the disease itself, but rather from poorly managed symptoms, such as weight loss, loss of appetite, and muscle wasting. Melatonin prevents cachexia and anemia, promotes the production of platelets, stimulates appetite, and alleviates the exhaustion and depression commonly experienced by those with cancer. And because it’s a natural analgesic, it relieves pain.
Dosages Used For Cancer
Melatonin levels have been shown to be lower in cancer patients, whereas, levels normalize when cancer goes into remission. Certain subsets of the population are at increased risk of having low levels of melatonin, including shift workers, insomniacs, pilots, flight attendants, those exposed to high levels of EMFs, people with ulcerative colitis, quadriplegics, spinal cord injury patients, and people taking medications for high blood pressure, which lowers serum levels of melatonin.
20-100 milligrams of melatonin per day are used to slow the progression of autoimmune diseases, and dosages up to 180 mg. a day are used to holistically treat cancer. It can be taken orally by mouth or as a lozenge dissolved underneath the tongue. Melatonin can be injected into muscles or applied topically to prevent and soothe mouth ulcers caused from chemotherapy and radiation.
Toxicity associated with melatonin is extremely low even when high doses, in the 3 to 6 gram range, are used. Side effects are typically minimal, but may include headaches, nausea, or abdominal pain. Supplementing with melatonin is safe, and is certainly much safer than taking prescription medications for sleep.
Since melatonin decreases with age, supplementing with it may be beneficial for those with age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Elderly men have lower levels of melatonin than do women, which may be one reason women live longer than men. Meditation boosts melatonin, which may be one reason for its efficacy.
Melatonin not only promotes deep sleep, it’s also essential for an optimally functioning immune system, which is the best defense against cancer. It induces apoptosis, inhibits angiogenesis, stimulates monocyte and macrophage activity, scavenges free radicals, and mitigates the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Melatonin is safe, affordable, and effective. Please learn more about using melatonin as an adjuvant cancer treatment if you or someone you love has cancer.
Have you heard of melatonin as an alternative treatment for cancer? Please leave your questions and comments below.