A Sleep Hormone and So Much More


You may know of melatonin as the hormone your body makes to help you regulate sleep, but new research suggests this hormone may do much more, including influencing MS symptoms and improving body composition.

Note that not everyone should be supplementing with over-the-counter melatonin. Our bodies only begin declining in melatonin production as we reach a certain age, which may vary between individuals. Some medical conditions and medications also may deplete natural melatonin levels. If you take melatonin when you don’t actually need it, you may “trick” your body into stopping its own production of the hormone, so check with your healthcare provider before trying melatonin.

Melatonin and MS

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system where immune T-cells mistakenly attack the protective sheath around nerve pathways, scrambling signals between the brain and the body. Because MS relapses can occur with seasonal changes, doctors suspected a link to sunlight and vitamin D levels.

In this study, researchers found that 139 people with MS relapses had significantly fewer symptoms during the fall and winter. Doctors analyzed several factors including environment, respiratory health, sun exposure, and vitamin D. The one factor with a consistent link to MS symptoms was melatonin, which the body produces at higher levels in the fall and winter.

Continuing in the lab, melatonin influenced two kinds of white blood cells: “killer” T cells that attack, and “regulatory” T cells that shut them off. Doctors said melatonin has a protective effect, dampening the immune response by keeping killer T cells at bay. It is too early to recommend people with MS take melatonin, but more research is under way.

Reference: Cell; 2015, Vol. 162, No. 6, 1338-52

Postmenopausal women lose fat mass

Melatonin regulates the sleep/wake cycle but may also have a positive effect on body weight and energy metabolism. In this study, 81 postmenopausal women took 1 mg or 3 mg of melatonin nightly, or a placebo. After one year, women who had taken either dose of melatonin had lost an average 6.9 percent more fat mass than placebo. Lean muscle mass in the melatonin group also increased by 2.6 percent. Adiponectin, a protein in fat cells that regulates lipid metabolism, increased 21 percent more than placebo.

Reference: Clinical Endocrinology; September, 2015, Published Online

Betsy’s Note: This article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease. Consult your healthcare provider before trying a new supplement, especially if you have a medical condition or take prescription medications. For example, melatonin may also thin blood.

Article copyright 2016 by Natural Insights for Well Being. All rights reserved. Used with permission.