Melanin is Really Important Stuff!

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

Poor Mr. Melanin. These days the latest skin care products feature skin whitening agents to shut down the production of the tanning biochemical. And of course standard medical dogma discourages sun exposure, effectively suppressing melanin synthesis. And those that go out in the sun are encouraged to wear sun protection, even further reducing melanin activity. All of which is too bad because as it turns out melanin is really important stuff!

Melanin is Really Important Stuff!

Albinism occurs when melanocytes produce little or no melanin. This albino girl is from Papua New Guinea.. By Muntuwandi, from Wikimedia Commons

In fact melanin, the biochemical most people recognize as a good tan, may be the most under-appreciated AND most fascinating molecules in the body. Melanin, the most ubiquitous and basic pigment in all of biology is the stuff that darkens your skin when you lay out, play golf, take a walk or do whatever you do to catch some rays. And while lots folks love a nice tan, how many of us can say that we understand just what exactly it is that gives the skin that much-desired golden hue.

What we call a tan is a manifestation of a chemical reaction that occurs between sunlight and melanin, the skin pigment that is found in all living things from fungi to fauna to human beings. And a pigment is nothing more than a molecule that absorbs waves of energy, the waves of energy called “light”. Waves of energy vary by their length and these various waves appear to us as colors. Red for example, has the longest wavelength. The wave we see as green is intermediate in length and Violet the shortest wavelength color visible to the human eye.

Pigments don’t absorb just any light. The typical pigment is selective about the kind of light it will absorb; other types are just not acceptable. Rejected light can be observed as the color of the pigment. A green colored pigment, for example, absorbs every part of the light spectrum BUT green which is rejected and thus observable. Likewise when we see red or blue, or any other color, what we are seeing is the light radiation that has been rejected, eliminated, spit out.

Melanin is a pigment too and like other pigments it absorbs specific types of light; i.e. wavelengths. However unlike other pigments, the light melanin absorbs is an invisible form known as ultraviolet radiation (UvR). As would be expected from a molecule that absorbs invisible light, the light melanin emits or rejects is anti-invisible light! It’s black. Instead of emitting colors as do other pigments melanin gets hot. In fact a melanin molecule can generate enough heat to enhance and amplify chemical reactions, acting in essence like a metabolism stimulating battery.

But melanin is more than a light absorbing pigment. Melanin is one of the most important organizing molecules in the body. It’s light absorbing properties ultimately allow it to structure the chaotic quantum waves of energy that comprise our environment into the tangible physical world we know as real. Melanin is known as a biological transducer which means it can convert energy forms into other energy forms. For example melanin can change sound energy into light energy and light energy back into sound. That’s why the erstwhile tanning molecule is found in great abundance in both the non-tanning eye and inner ear.

There are three main types of melanin. The first two, phaeomelanin (red-brown in color and most abundant in fairer folks) and eumelanin (brown black and found in the in those with darker complexions) are skin and hair pigments. The third type of melanin is found in great abundance in the brain. There it’s called neuromelanin, and it appears to act as a biological semi-conductor structuring, channeling. and organizing electrical energy. Neuromelanin is a powerful free radical scavenger and brain protective anti-oxidant

If you’re interested in boosting melanin production, think tyrosine. This essential amino acid is not made in the body and to keep you’re levels adequate you’ve got to make sure you’re getting in the diet. Good sources of tyrosine include seaweed, spirulina soy, eggs cheese, quinoa, avocados and pumpkin seeds. You can also use tyrosine supplements. A 500 mg a day dose will not only get you enough of the amino for building melanin, it’ll probably give you a little buzz too. That’s because in addition to being an important component of melanin it’s also a fundamental building block of important biochemical energizers including dopamine, norepinephrine, adrenalin, and thyroid hormone.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health