The Mystery of Melatonin

Melatonin

We’ve all heard of melatonin, but why is it receiving more attention of late? It used to be something you took just to overcome jet lag, but now there is more information about the importance of melatonin in maintaining a healthy cognitive brain and general wellness.

What is melatonin?
Produced by the pineal gland in the brain, only at night when you are in darkness (exposure to light turns it off), melatonin is a hormone which helps control your sleeping and waking cycles.
We also obtain some melatonin from our diet, such as meats, grains (rice, barley), fruits (strawberries, tomatoes, cherries), walnuts, olives, vegetables and cows milk. As we age, our brain produces less and less.

Why is melatonin important?
Our body clock (circadian rhythms) and melatonin production work hand in hand. Levels of this hormone begin to rise in the evening, reaching high levels throughout the night until about 3am, it slowly declines to the point when morning light switches off production altogether. Shift workers are commonly afflicted with dysfunctional melatonin production when they are working regular hours at night.
Your body uses the amino acids from the proteins you eat to manufacture melatonin. People with low levels may have more trouble actually falling asleep, and then make things worse when they get up and turn a light on. Or they spend time looking at their mobile phone, which has a blue light background, also ceasing melatonin production.
The problem of insufficient melatonin is associated with poor cognitive function, seasonal affective disorder, chronic insomnia and depression.

How to fix melatonin dysfunction
It is worth having a conversation with your doctor about this problem, particularly if you suffer from poor sleep. It is important to ensure you are getting the right dose of melatonin if you intend to use supplementation as too much can lead to other issues. You don’t want to end up with headaches, strange dreams and sleepiness in the morning. It can also interact with other medications which your doctor will know about.
There are several products available for supplementation, or ideally you can also ask for a prescription of melatonin which is then made up especially for your own body requirements by a compounding chemist. Green’s Pharmacies offer this service in Adelaide.

Melatonin success
Many people swear by melatonin as being the wonderful turning point in the search for better sleep and more energy. It is not a sleeping pill, so there is no sedative effect that you may have with benzodiazepines (like Valium or Temazepam), and you are creating natural sleep patterns in preference to drugging your brain into submission. It can be taken together with other natural remedies like magnesium, B group vitamins, aromatherapy and soothing herbal teas.

Healthy melatonin levels and good sleep is associated with a stronger immune response, better moods, positivity and general wellness. If you are feeling foggy, tired and can’t fall asleep, it might be worth investigating further.

Erica Fotineas
October 2017

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