Melatonin: Biggest Health Bang For Your Money

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

There is no more cost-effective and versatile nutritional supplement in the average health food store than melatonin. First discovered by dermatology researchers at Yale University in 1958, melatonin was initially recognized for its skin lightening properties. Since then it has been shown to provide a wide range of health benefits from anti-oxidation and anti-aging to reducing blood pressure and improving cardiac function.Melatonin

Typically, melatonin is produced by released from cells in the pineal gland as a normal part of the brain’s 24 hour sleep/wake cycle know as the circadian (circa-dia or “cycles of the day”) rhythm. Production of melatonin is tied to cyclic patterns of daylight and nighttime sensed by the retina and communicated to the brain. When this cycle is disrupted as in jet lag or working the late shift, melatonin secretion may be negatively affected. Senior citizens are also at risk for low secretion of melatonin as a normal consequence of the aging process.

The most common symptom of depressed melatonin secretion is insomnia. In the 1990’s this important biochemical became a popular sleep-aid supplement. Because its highest concentrations are secreted during the evening, a bedtime dose may allow patients to duplicate the melatonin levels that would be achieved under normal circumstances. It can also be used to improve sleep patterns after discontinuing the use of anti-anxiety medication. According to Dr. Russel Reiter in his bestselling book Melatonin, Your Body’s Natural Wonder Drug, as little as 10mg of melatonin can have “profound sleep-enhancing effects”.

Melatonin acquired its moniker from its anti-pigmenting properties on the skin of frogs. Composed of the Latin terms for black (“mela-”) for black and “-tonin” for control, melatonin has unfortunately not been shown to have the same effects on humans. However, melatonin may still provide cutaneous benefits. Researchers at The University of Zurich have found that topically applied melatonin may help protect the skin from harmful UV rays if applied prior to sun exposure.

Melatonin has also garnered a reputation among nutritional scientists as a potent anti-oxidant. Dr. Julio Ochoa of the institute of Nutrition and Food Technology calls melatonin “a potent free radical scavenger and broad spectrum antioxidant”. He also touts its benefits as an anti-inflammatory and considers it a viable candidate for decreasing oxidative stress associated with intense exercise.

MelatoninBecause its levels typically decrease with age, melatonin has attracted attention as an anti-aging supplement. According to several studies done at the Virginia Commonwealth University and published in the book “The Miracle of Melatonin”, mice given melatonin demonstrated extensions in both average and maximum lifespan. And a Chinese study published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences found that patients given melatonin exhibited reversal of damage associated with age-related macular degeneration.

And, as they say on the commercial, that’s not all! A Harvard study published in the January 20, 2004 issue of the journal “Hypertension” showed that taking melatonin for 21 days lowered blood pressure among 16 men with untreated high blood pressure. It is thought that melatonin’s natural effects on improving the circadian cycle accounts for its anti-hypertensive effects. Also, because some blood pressure drugs may have a depressant effect on melatonin levels hypertensive patients on pharmaceuticals may want to consider adding a melatonin supplement to their medication regimen.

In 1994, German scientists curious about melatonin’s effects on the heart found that melatonin blocked the formation of cholesterol by up to 38%. LDL accumulations were shown to decrease by up to 42%. And in the B-Oval contraceptive study, conducted on 1400 women, and which included a melatonin supplement, it was found that participants had “significantly lower” cholesterol levels than they had before starting the study.

Melatonin is readily available in health food stores in tablets and capsules. I like the sublingual form which dissolves under the tongue. A good starting dose is 3 mg at bedtime, although some people can take as much as 15mg a night with no residual morning grogginess, which is the only potential side effect of note. And at less than 10 cents for a 3 mg tablet, it’s an incredibly economical way to achieve numerous health benefits.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

Sleep Better With Theanine

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

I wrote about about the relaxing properties of the neurotransmitter GABA, which can be taken as a nutritional supplement. Well, it turns out that many of the benefits of GABA can also be obtained by taking its precursor, a rarely heard-of nutritional supplement called theanine.

Theanine is an amino acid that is found naturally in the green tea plant and may be responsible for the improved sense of well-being and relaxation that aficionados claim they receive from the popular Asian beverage. Like GABA, it can improve the quality of sleep and can provide a calming effect for anxiety sufferers. Unlike its more well-known derivative however, theanine crosses the brain barrier and may thus have more significant effects on the nervous system. And, it’s an anti-oxidant too.

Sleep Better With TheanineIf you’ve tried GABA and have not been satisfied with the results, you may want to consider replacing it with theanine. It’s analogous to the amino acid glutamine, which provides comprehensive health benefits although it is unclear where or not these benefits may also be obtained via theanine supplementation. Theanine has been shown to improve the levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is associated with feeling of reward and pleasure, and this may account for some of theanine’s reported positive effects on mood.

It may have beneficial effects on the immune system too. A study done in 2003 at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that patients drinking theanine-containing beverages had up to 5 times higher levels of anti-bacterial peptides than those who didn’t drink the beverages.

The best bet on theanine for relaxation is 200 mg to 400 mg a day. There are not a lot of studies though, so the jury’s still out on exactly how much benefit it can provide in a real-life setting, but from a biochemistry standpoint theanine looks like it’s got some potential. If you’re taking GABA and not getting the results you want, or maybe if you want a little more relaxation or deeper sleep, taking a couple this little known nutritional supplement at bedtime might be something you’d want to try.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health