Wednesday, March 5, 2008


Forget vitamins C and E. The unrecognized antioxidant hero of your molecular world may be melatonin. This hormone is produced by the pineal gland at the base of the brain particularly during the wee hours of the night. Melatonin levels are adversely affected both by light at night and aging, so if you're an aging insomniac, you should lie in bed and curse the darkness rather than light a single reading lamp.

Melatonin is a wonderfully efficient free radical scavenger. Free radicals are highly reactive oxygen- and nitrogen-based molecules in search of electrical stability. These unstable characters have such an immediate need for electrons that they will travel only an angstrom or two before exploding some important piece of your cellular machinery. The most effective antioxidant then is the one that's on site when these radical bad boys are produced.

Scientists call the area in which a toxic radical mutilates its neighbors the "reaction cage." Fat soluble vitamin E happily resides in the cell membrane, sopping up radicals in this reaction cage. Likewise, water soluble vitamin C works its magic in the water-based inner sea known as the cytosol. Not only does melatonin also work in these reaction cages, it is antioxidizing away in the mitochondria and the nucleus of the cell as well. In other words, melatonin is widely distributed throughout the cell, making it a scavenger extraordinaire, always in the right place at the right time.

Inexpensive, minimally toxic, and easily available in pure form (Consumer Labs tested 14 preparations and found them all to contain their advertised amounts of melatonin without contamination), melatonin has been lauded as a wonder treatment for the conditions that cause "feebleness in the elderly." In particular, melatonin prevents the secondary damage to brain cells caused by trauma, strokes, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinsonism, effectively squashing the radical oxygen species produced as a result of these disorders.

If you've tried melatonin for sleep and found it wanting, consider coming back around on it in a higher dose, say 3 or 5 mg. This research suggests that you may want to take melatonin each night whether you need it to snooze or not.


Anonymous said...

I've been taking melatonin for years, as I tend toward sleep issues. Mostly, my body would rather stay awake long into the night, and sleep long into the morning. Of course, the working world doesn't allow this!

The most effective way of taking it, I have found, is to NOT follow the instructions on the label, which usually say to take it 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime. I get much better results taking it about 2 hours before I go to bed.

The version I take also has Vitamin B6 and calcium (and who among us can't use more calcium?), which may help its effectiveness.

Mauigirl said...

I've taken the kind you put under your tongue and it works fantastically well. I'd put it under my tongue and before it even completely melted I'd be out.

Femail doc said...

Anon: I took your advice and started taking the melatonin earlier; you're right, the results are better.

MG: Didn't know it came in melt-in-mouth formulation. The direct to circulation meds should work faster yet; maybe I'll try this when I finish my current bottle.