Chances are you have heard of melatonin, but how much do you know about it?
Melatonin is a hormone produced by your pineal gland — a gland in the middle of your brain that is about the size of a pea — as well as by the lining of the gut. This hormone helps regulate your body’s sleep and wake cycles, affecting your alertness throughout the day and night. In fact, more melatonin is generated by your body at night; levels increase in the evening — around sunset — and drop in the morning, helping stabilize your body’s circadian rhythms. The amount produced depends on your “body clock” and the quantity of light you get each day.
While melatonin is known for its impact on sleep and wakefulness, it can also impact other aspects of health and wellness. This hard-working hormone can affect gut health, influence insulin sensitivity and metabolic rate, body weight, and even how you age.
People commonly use melatonin to assist with sleep, as it appears to help people fall asleep more quickly — though it does not work for everyone. It may be more effective for those with varying sleep schedules. It also seems to help frequent travelers ease jet lag if taken near their normal bedtime.
Because it affects your circadian rhythms, melatonin may also influence conditions that are associated with sleep. For example, melatonin can help regulate gastrointestinal motility, or the movement of food through your digestive system. Much of the melatonin that your body generates is made in the gut; research indicates that its production is triggered by eating.
Melatonin may help prevent leaky gut syndrome and other conditions by helping maintain a healthy intestinal lining. Studies show that melatonin supplements can improve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, by reducing abdominal pain and improving overall quality of life. There is some evidence that it may also help prevent non-alcoholic fatty liver disease conditions.
Melatonin can impact bodyweight as well, as it influences other hormones such as leptin, which plays a part in appetite and satiety. It could also improve insulin sensitivity and may help you lose weight. Another plus? Its antioxidant properties may combat inflammation and modulate the aging process. As researchers continue to explore the role of melatonin in the body, it’s likely they will discover more abilities and benefits of this critical hormone.
For more information about the link between melatonin and your microbiome, check out the accompanying resource.