In this month’s Endocrine Health Spotlight: Melatonin
By Jennifer Kohler, MS, FNP-BC, CLC
As we continue our endocrine blog series, we are going to discuss Melatonin, which many of you might question as to how is this endocrine-related. Melatonin became popular over the past 10-12 years, and many people have added it as a sleep supplement to their regimen. But what is it, and how does it work?
Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by your GI system, white blood cells, the pineal gland, and in your retinas (huh…. think back to when we discussed how blue light affects sleep). It has numerous functions in your body and is derived from the amino acid tryptophan. In order to convert tryptophan into melatonin you need adequate b-vitamins in your body (again we see how nutrients are so important in our bodily functions).
Melatonin’s biggest claim to fame is related to sleep health. It helps set your body’s 24-hour clock (aka circadian rhythm), causes drowsiness, and lowers your body temperature to prepare your body for sleep. Melatonin helps promote restful sleep by decreasing cortisol levels, balancing stress responses, and improving your quality of sleep. It affects the release of sex hormones and is important in the stimulation of growth hormones. Growth hormone is vital to cellular growth and regeneration throughout our entire lives; it helps maintain our muscles, bones, and tissues. This is why when you do not get enough REM sleep, we say you are not getting restorative sleep.
Melatonin is also related to immune system stimulation; it has antioxidant activity, anti-cancer properties, and can affect mood. There are foods and medications that can also affect melatonin levels, causing a deficiency or overproduction. Again, to get the most benefit from this hormone you want it balanced and individualized for your body, so starting with encouraging your body to adequately produce it is the first step along with discussing with your provider if melatonin supplementation is an option for you.