Melatonin: For Much More than Sleep
Melatonin is most recognized as a natural hormone present in our bodies that helps us set our circadian rhythms – our sleep cycles. It is also present in botanical sources, including tart cherries, which is one reason that juice and supplements from that particular source have been considered helpful for promoting a good night’s sleep.
Many people most likely take melatonin supplements because they’ve been missing out on a good night’s rest and need to re-establish a healthy sleep and wake pattern. However, melatonin is important for many reasons, not just to help you doze off at night.
It is a critical nutrient for the immune system as well. That makes sense when you consider that the immune system recharges at night, and that any disruption to that cycle doesn’t just create morning grogginess, but also puts you at greater risk of bacterial and viral infections.
Nutrients have a wide spectrum of action in the mind and body; melatonin is no exception. Sleep is essential to optimal health, and of course, so is a strong immune system.
Plus, our own naturally-occurring melatonin levels also decline with age, so supplementation may be warranted if your sleep patterns have been increasingly interrupted.
Carrillo-Vico A, Lardone PJ, Alvarez-Sánchez N, Rodríguez-Rodríguez A, Guerrero JM. Melatonin: buffering the immune system. Int J Mol Sci. 2013;14(4):8638‐8683. Published 2013 Apr 22. doi:10.3390/ijms14048638
Melatonin modulates a wide range of physiological functions with pleiotropic effects on the immune system. Despite the large number of reports implicating melatonin as an immunomodulatory compound, it still remains unclear how melatonin regulates immunity. While some authors argue that melatonin is an immunostimulant, many studies have also described anti-inflammatory properties. The data reviewed in this paper support the idea of melatonin as an immune buffer, acting as a stimulant under basal or immunosuppressive conditions or as an anti-inflammatory compound in the presence of exacerbated immune responses, such as acute inflammation. The clinical relevance of the multiple functions of melatonin under different immune conditions, such as infection, autoimmunity, vaccination and immunosenescence, is also reviewed.