When most of us think about melatonin—if we think about it at all—it’s usually in relation to sleeping better. But according to a recent study, melatonin, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, can also be powerful against weight gain and obesity. (1)
New Research on Melatonin
In the study, conducted over 6 weeks, diabetic rats that were treated with oral melatonin had increased brown adipose tissue, known as brown fat or BAT. Brown fat is a type of fat that burns more calories than white fat, the other major type of fat cell. In the rats, the melatonin also “browned” some of the more harmful white fat, turning it into beige fat, which behaves more like BAT. The extra melatonin also increased levels of UCP1, a protein responsible for calorie burning and heat generating. Additionally, the rats lost weight even when a change in diet and physical activity was accounted for.
Of course, the study was performed on rats, not humans, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that people will reap the same benefits as the rodents did. However, the initial results certainly seem promising, as we’ve known for some time that melatonin affects brown fat.
Want to reap some of these potential benefits? Let’s take a look at exactly what melatonin is and how to get more of it in your life.
Melatonin Production and Benefits in the Body
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Around 9 p.m. each evening, the pineal gland starts producing melatonin. At this time, melatonin levels increase sharply and you start to feel a bit sleepier. When things are running normally, melatonin production remains high for about 12 hours, then drops to a barely detectable level at about 9 a.m., until the process begins all over again.
Night time is crucial for melatonin production, as your body produces the hormone when it’s dark out. People who do shift work at night are more likely to have issues with their melatonin levels, as are people with jet lag. Caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol can also effect melatonin production.
And if you rarely leave the office during the day and aren’t soaking in natural light, or you’re being exposed to bright lights in the evening, you may find that your melatonin production is disrupted. The blue lights that electronics like smartphones, TVs, and computers produce can also affect melatonin levels, which is why I always recommend shutting down electronics at least an hour before bedtime.
As I mentioned, melatonin is a hormone that’s responsible for maintaining your body’s circadian rhythm or your internal clock that regulates when you fall asleep and when you wake up. But maintaining proper melatonin production is also important because, aside from helping you get your beauty sleep each night, this hormone also has a host of health benefits.
To name a few benefits—other than its potential to help burn calories—researchers have found that melatonin may inhibit tumor growth and cell production in breast cancer patients. (2) Increased melatonin can also ease menopause symptoms (like trouble sleeping) and help protect against heart disease by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol.
How To Increase Melatonin
- You can increase melatonin levels naturally by eating foods like oats, bananas, pineapple, walnuts, and barley, which can all boost melatonin production.
- Daytime exercise and light exposure also promote a regular circadian rhythm, which means higher levels of melatonin in the evenings.
- And limiting your caffeine intake to mornings, while cutting out tobacco and alcohol, can help as well.
- If you’d like to give yourself an extra melatonin boost, you can also take supplements. You can find melatonin at health food stores in a variety of forms, including capsules, lozenges, and topical creams. There is no universal recommended dose, but I recommend no more than 5 milligrams of melatonin a day.
It’s always a good idea to start with a really low dose and see how your body reacts. Too much melatonin can actually disrupt your sleep by altering circadian rhythms too much. Other side effects can include headaches, dizziness or irritability, which are usually heightened when the dose is too high.
Melatonin is safe in the short term, but if you’re considering using it long term, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor. You should also speak to a doctor if you have any health issues related to hormones or are taking prescription medications, as melatonin can decrease the effectiveness of some pharmaceuticals, including birth control pills and blood pressure medication. Finally, f you’re pregnant or nursing, you should avoid melatonin altogether.
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