(NaturalHealth365) Researchers have long known that melatonin, the “sleep hormone,” helps to regulate the body’s circadian rhythms. But its benefits don’t stop with merely helping you get a good night’s sleep – the compound is also believed to play an important role in cellular function, as well as contributing to disease prevention.
Now, a just-published study has shed light on the mechanics of melatonin’s intriguing ability to work at the cellular level to repair mitochondrial damage, slow down the aging process and improve the quality of our life. Who wouldn’t want that, as a result?
Melatonin combats mitochondrial damage and dysfunction
Mitochondria, rod-shaped structures inside cells, generate power by converting oxygen and nutrients into energy. However, their numbers decrease and their function degrades with age – shortening life and increasing susceptibility to disease.
In a study published in Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, researchers found that that supplementing with melatonin promotes youthful mitochondrial function by preventing “holes” in mitochondrial inner membranes.
These holes – known as mitochondrial permeability transition pores, or MPTP – allow water and tiny chemical molecules to flow continuously into mitochondria, disrupting the ability to generate energy and causing swelling and eventual mitochondrial death.
This type of mitochondrial dysfunction contributes to aging and age-related and metabolic conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Closing the MPTP opening is necessary if the mitochondria is to function properly.
This is where beneficial melatonin comes to the rescue, dramatically reducing the MPTP opening.
In fact, researchers found that melatonin actually helps maintain levels of a specific enzyme, CNPase, that breaks down molecules that promote the opening of the MPTP. With normal aging, CNPase levels can fall by as much as 34 percent – causing a loss of mitochondrial function of up to 69 percent.
But, supplementing with melatonin can help restore youthful mitochondrial function – a priceless benefit.
Melatonin may help prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease
However, preventing the MTPT opening is not melatonin’s only contribution to slowing aging.
Animal studies have shown that melatonin can restore impaired memory. A natural antioxidant, melatonin also works to reduce oxidative stress and enhances the function of proteins such as SIRT1, which are associated with longevity.
In a 2014 review published in International Journal of Molecular Sciences, researchers noted that melatonin helped to protect brain cells by preserving levels of SIRT1. The team credited melatonin with anti-aging properties, and noted that it could potentially be used to treat neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
And, in a study published in 2017, researchers found that treating aged mice with melatonin for six months slowed the age-induced reduction in longevity proteins such as SIRT1, FOXO1, MT1 and MT2.
Melatonin provides a wealth of additional health benefits
Melatonin also shows promise as an adjunctive cancer treatment to limit the toxic side effects of chemotherapy, and many researchers think it may help prevent breast cancer as well.
This hard-working compound also protects heart muscle after a heart attack; alleviates fatty liver disease; and improves the function of muscle cells in the intestines.
Integrative healthcare providers often suggest the use of melatonin for treating insomnia, jet lag and anxiety, as well as for helping people taper off benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax.
The body normally produces about 0.3 mgs of melatonin a day, and good dietary sources include bananas, beets, cucumbers and tomatoes. If you are interested in supplementing with melatonin, first get the go-ahead from a trusted, healthcare provider – who can advise you on proper dosage requirements.
Bottom line: the latest (compelling) research does appear to reveal that melatonin not only protects health, but prolongs life as well.
Sources for this article include:
Food & Nutrition
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