The hormone that governs our sleep/wake cycle is now being lauded as a “mystery antioxidant.” The hormone is called melatonin, manufactured by the pineal gland. The name of the gland derives from its shape, a tiny pine cone-like structure in the center of the brain, tucked into a groove between the two hemispheres, where the halves of the thalmus are joined. Some people associate the pineal gland with the metaphysical “third eye.”
Melatonin is often called “the sleep hormone,” as it regulates the body’s internal clock. However, that is just the beginning of the health benefits it offers. After extensive research, scientist have determined this hormone offers protection from cardiovascular disease and diabetes, supports bone health and fights obesity.
Most importantly, it appears that melatonin protects genetic material and fights aging and the diseases of aging. The hormone contains 200 percent more antioxidant power than vitamin E, and it is also superior to glutathione, vitamin E and vitamin C in reducing cell damage from oxidation.
Melatonin has been found to inhibit damage to fat cells by free radicals in post-menopausal women. This promotes lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (often call the “bad cholesterol”). LDL is one of the main ingredients in the formation of atherosclerosis. Research in men confirmed these conclusions.
In a study of people undergoing cardiopulmonary bypass surgery, melatonin lowered lipid peroxidation and improved the integrity of the membranes of red blood cells. Animal studies have shown melatonin offers antioxidant protection against injury to heart muscles, reduces the damage done by heart attacks, and improves the strength of the heart’s pumping action after a heart attack. Melatonin also lowers blood pressure.
Other diseases related to free radical damage, such as age-related macular degeneration, acute respiratory distress syndrome, glaucoma and sepsis have also been proven to respond to increased levels of melatonin.
It is the antioxidant properties of melatonin, as well as its anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, and hormone-regulating properties that make it a powerful anticarcinogenic. Melatonin helps prevent cancer from occurring, and if it does occur, melatonin is effective in killing malignant cells. Its ability to stop the multiplication of cancer cells (proliferation) and to cause cancer cell death (apoptosis) have been proven in cancer patients. Melatonin has been used to successfully treat people with advanced stage cancer while they are undergoing more conventional treatment, by slowing the progression of the disease and/or decreasing the debilitating side effects of treatment.
Another reason melatonin works so well against cancer is because it boosts the immune system. It activates T-helper cells, and these trigger other immune cells to help kill off pathogens and cells that are seen as invaders. It supports cell-to-cell communication. Researchers are eager to further explore the possibilities.
Melatonin protects against he complications of diabetes, another “free radical disease.” Studies show that people with type 2 diabetes and retinopathy suffer from alterations in their melatonin secretion. The hormone protects organs affected by diabetes, including kidneys, retinas, the brain and the blood vessel system.