Scientists discover a link between melatonin and cellular health for longevity

Melatonin has been found to have added benefits aside from helping you sleep.

Melatonin, cellular energy and aging

Aging is a complex physiological process involving a number of biochemical reactions, with molecular changes manifested in single cells and the whole organism. It reflects the total of all changes that occur in living organisms with time that lead to functional impairment and increased pathology. Aging is characterised by a diminished ability to respond to stress [1]. 

Among the many theories proposed for aging, the Oxidative Theory of Aging put forth by Harman in 1956 has received broad support [2] .

Aging is linked to a decline in immune operation known as immunosenescence. This situation implies increased susceptibility to infectious diseases and cancer due to a decreased capacity of the immune system to respond to antigenic stimulation.

Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland in your brain. It’s mainly responsible for controlling your body’s circadian rhythm and addressing your natural sleep cycle. Thus, it’s frequently used as a sleep aid for conditions such as insomnia.

In the U.S., melatonin is widely available as an over-the-counter medication but needs a prescription in some parts of the world, including Europe [3].

In addition to bettering sleep, melatonin is concerned with handling blood pressure, cortisol levels and immune function. It also works as an antioxidant, with some research finding that it can impact many health conditions.

Studies reveal that melatonin may improve eye health, reduce symptoms of seasonal depression and even bring relief from acid reflux [4].

But melatonin is also becoming known for its potential in disease prevention, cellular function and its remarkable impact on longevity in animal models of aging [5].

Melatonin and longevity

According to some admittedly optimistic longevity experts, the marvels of medical science could soon lead to people living to be 150 years old. The current trouble is that our healthspan is not holding pace, which means many of us face the very real possibility of living for many decades in poor states of health. To try and avoid this scenario, people are increasingly looking for ways to slow the process of aging.

One approach is to try and sustain the ability of our cells to create energy. This process naturally declines as we get older, while some lifestyle choices can prematurely lower your cell’s energy and even shorten your lifespan. But it is also possible to take actions that maintain high cellular energy levels in order to live healthier and longer lives. And melatonin is showing its potential in this area.

Scientific findings on melatonin

Scientists recently uncovered a new way melatonin facilitates longevity. This new mechanism concerns melatonin’s capacity to hold mitochondrial function [6].

Loss of mitochondrial function is essential to aging throughout the body, putting us at risk of age-related ailments like neurodegeneration, coronary artery disease and metabolic disturbances like obesity and diabetes.

A significant contributor to mitochondrial dysfunction is mitochondrial permeability transition pore (mPTP) – opening a hole in mitochondrial membranes that results in the eventual death of individual mitochondria. Research shows that melatonin maintains healthy mitochondrial function by safely and effectively preventing pore opening.

To fully understand the influence of the study’s results, we first need to review some background details.

Mitochondrial dysfunction takes part in a significant role in aging and disease because mitochondria are the powerhouses of our cells. Mitochondria release huge amounts of energy needed to power the human body by using up fuel supplied by the food we eat.

In the published study, researchers in South Carolina and Russia teamed up to analyse details of how melatonin interacts with the mPTP to nurture and preserve mitochondrial function. The researchers found that melatonin improved mitochondrial function by raising levels of an enzyme included in controlling mPTP holes.

The enzyme is called CNPase, which protects mitochondria. It does this by breaking down a molecule that aids the opening of the mPTP. Persisted CNPase activity is required for maintaining normal mitochondrial function and energy availability in the cell.

Although animal research has shown that CNPase levels plunge by as much as 34% with aging, coupled with the loss of mitochondrial electrical function by up to 69%.24 – this has hazardous effects on overall tissue and organ function.

The new study found that melatonin aids in maintaining standard levels of CNPase within mitochondria, where it suppresses mPTP. This supports regular electrical operation in mitochondria and contributes to resistance to disease, normal organ and tissue function, and slower aging. These findings indicate that melatonin contributes to disease resistance and age deceleration through its direct impact on mitochondrial function.

In 2021, another study also looked into the exogenous administration of melatonin. It revealed that it may control and alleviate numerous cardiovascular diseases, as well as neurodegenerative pathologies like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s [7].

Recommened dosage for melatonin

Melatonin can be taken in quantities of 0.5 to 10 mg a day. Yet, because not all melatonin supplements are the same, it’s best to stick to the guidance on the label to avoid adverse side effects.

You may also try to begin with a lower dose and increase as required to find what works for you. If you’re using melatonin to enhance sleep quality, try taking it at least 30 minutes before bed for optimum effects. However, if you’re using it to restore your circadian rhythm and set a more regular sleep schedule, for example, you should take it around two to three hours before you go to bed.

Lifestyle habits that affect longevity

Melatonin proves to have an added benefit aside from helping you sleep.

It’s also helpful to keep these other factors in check:

Alcohol and caffeine intake: starting your day with coffee and ending it with some wine might not be beneficial for your cells, as both can impact the function of your mitochondria, reducing cellular energy levels.

Diet: a continuous insufficient diet may lead to impaired mitochondria function. These are crucial to cellular health; cells fail to generate energy and perish prematurely if they are not allowed to do their jobs.

Environment: pollution affects cellular respiration, which damages cell function and can lead to premature cellular death.

Insomnia: according to varied research, we are not getting enough sleep. Since this is the period when the body relaxes and revives, sleep deficiency will leave you with less energy and potentially even shorten your life over time.

Stress: busy work schedules are killing us. Stress is shown to shorten the length of telomeres leading to the premature death of cells.

Melatonin may improve sleep, eye health, HGH (human growth hormone) levels, GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) and seasonal depression.

Melatonin is nontoxic and linked to next to no side effects but may interact with some medications. It’s presently not recommended for children.

The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

[1] https://immunityageing.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1742-4933-2-17#ref-CR1
[2] https://immunityageing.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1742-4933-2-17#ref-CR2
[3] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/melatonin#sleep
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16399908
[5] https://www.lifeextension.com/magazine/2017/8/melatonins-newly-discovered-anti-aging-mechanism
[6] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27836641/
[7] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33314257/

Photograph: Bimbim/VectorStock

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The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.