Here’s a riddle for you: Why do blind women get breast cancer at about half the rate that sighted women do?
We think it has to do with two things: light, and a hormone called melatonin.
Most people who have heard of melatonin know it as a supplement that can help with sleep (which it definitely can). And it’s great for jet lag. But the melatonin story is a lot more interesting– and complicated– than its ability to serve as a natural cure for insomnia.
Melatonin may have a role in protecting you against cancer. It also supports the immune system and is one of the most powerful antioxidants we know of. It protects cell membranes even more than vitamin E does, and is more effective than glutathione (an important antioxidant in the body) at neutralizing a deadly free radical that causes oxidative damage, hydroxyl radicals.
So although melatonin is not by itself a miracle anti-aging supplement, it helps protect against a number of age-robbers.
Take sleep, for example.
During sleep, a great deal of cellular damage that occurs during the day is repaired and that repair process is initiated by secretions of melatonin. And because disturbed sleep so often accompanies aging, anything that can help us sleep better (with ancillary benefits to boot and no side effects) might be something to take note of. Melatonin definitely fits the bill.
Poor sleep quality reduces the secretion of growth hormone, an important hormone that helps us keep muscle and lose fat. It may also raise levels of stress hormones such as cortisol.Lack of rest or disruption of normal sleep patterns can increase hunger, leading to obesity-related illnesses and accelerated aging. Because melatonin is so helpful in getting a good night’s sleep, the use of melatonin as a supplement may have far-reaching consequences for many of the conditions that interfere with healthy aging.
And if all this weren’t enough, melatonin may also be good for the heart. Researchers tested melatonin supplements on women aged forty-seven to sixty-three and found that supplementation improved the “day-night” rhythm of blood pressure, significantly decreasing nighttime blood pressure.
“Melatonin, in addition to being an incredibly powerful antioxidant, may well turn out to be cardio-protective”, says Beth Traylor, MD, of Cenegenics Medical Institute.
Melatonin is a hugely important hormone with many overlapping benefits. virtually everyone over the age of forty doesn’t make enough, and taking a little extra doesn’t seem to have any negative side effects.
Melatonin has been used successfully as a supplement for sleep in doses from as low as 0.1 mg to as much as 10mg. One very popular dose is 3mg.