The Melatonin Prescription
Most people have a basic understanding of melatonin thanks to dedicated marketing campaigns by some of the most prolific supplement manufacturers, although the mainstream narrative often sells this hormone short. While the general consensus remains that melatonin helps us get a good night’s sleep, the supplement makers often neglect to share the other parts of the story and divorce it from an environmental context. Melatonin’s myriad of beneficial regulatory effects, and the fact that taking an endogenously produced hormone exogenously can be damaging, are often omitted by the nutraceutical authorities. In a modern industrialized and electrified culture that is literally robbing us of our melatonin, it becomes imperative to gain a deep understanding of this hormone and how to optimally produce and utilize it in our bodies.
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a regulatory hormone that is derived from the amino acid tryptophan and the neurotransmitter serotonin. The pineal gland in the brain, and various tissues and organs including the stomach, produce melatonin. Melatonin acts on cells and tissues via two receptor proteins MT1 and MT2, which are present in a variety of organs and cell types. These receptors are known to control sleep, which is where melatonin gets its reputation as “the sleep hormone.” At night there is 10 to 15 times more melatonin in the blood than there is in the day, and levels can be drastically decreased by blue light exposure, making it the hormone of darkness. However, darkness to does stimulate melatonin production it simply allows it to be released and activate tissues via the bloodstream.
The Virtues of Melatonin
Melatonin and Circadian Rhythm
The action of melatonin in our bodies is one of the main mechanisms by which our circadian rhythm is entrained. Our sleep-wake cycle, and the tightly regulated concert of our biological processes are controlled suprachiasmatic nucleus in the hypothalamus of our brains which controls pineal secretions of melatonin. Melatonin helps us sleep longer, deeper, and more restoratively. In a healthy person in an optimal light environment, the rhythm of the antagonists cortisol and melatonin would effectively regulate an excellent circadian cycle.
Melatonin as an Antioxidant
Melatonin is the master regenerator. What you injure in life, melatonin heals. Everything from normal everyday wear and tear to traumatic injury is met with a sea of melatonin when the sun goes down. This is due to melatonin’s potent antioxidant properties. Melatonin and its metabolites have the ability to bind reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (ROS, RNS) and in turn stimulate other cells to upregulate antioxidant enzymes that increase things like glutathione for cellular cleanup. A single molecule of melatonin can neutralize up to 10 molecules of ROS or RNS. It is the single most powerful antioxidant that we have in our bodies.
Melatonin & Mitochondria
At a cellular level, the highest melatonin concentrations are in the nucleus and the mitochondria. This is because melatonin repairs both DNA and mtDNA and regulates their expression. This is a powerful mechanism, as mitochondrial heteroplasmy and mitochondrial disease are a result of mtDNA damage. Melatonin reverses this process if properly produced and utilized in biological systems. Mitochondria are also the hub of oxidative stress, and melatonin protects their structural integrity and viability by dampening inflammatory damage. Melatonin is perhaps the principle biochemical agent involved in maintaining a healthy colony of mitochondria.
Melatonin & Immunity
Melatonin is immune modulatory, which is a fancy way of saying that it enhances the immune system whether it’s over or under-active. It has the ability to reduce excessive immune stimulation in inflammatory conditions and enhance immune function in immunocompromised people. Melatonin can reduce the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and dampen oxidative stress, but also can reverse suppression of the immune system due to aging, toxic exposures, and prescription drugs.
Melatonin Production and Utilization
This is where Ra Optics differs from the supplement makers. Our philosophy is that any biochemical made endogenously should not be ingested exogenously, and that the endogenous pathway should be optimized.
Melatonin, one of the many photo-endocrine substances, is a downstream product of an aromatic amino acid called tryptophan. Aromatic amino acids (Histidine, phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan) have a “photon trap” incorporated into their molecular structure, making them antennas that are activated by certain frequencies of light. In the case of tryptophan, it has absorption peaks in the UV range. This means that tryptophan activation, and in turn the beginnings of melatonin production, begins when our biological surfaces (primarily the eyes and skin) are exposed to UV light in the morning.
As previously discussed, melatonin release and activation occurs in darkness post-sunset. Production begins in morning light, and functional release occurs in the dark.
Modern culture is sapping your melatonin. Not only do people work and socialize late into the night, but they do it under the exact frequencies of light that stress our biology and suppress our melatonin stores. Nevermind the fact that for the average person, their eyes and skin are rarely exposed to the morning sun to stimulate its production. With this in mind, the epidemics of insomnia, anxiety, and depression should come as no surprise. Our neurological systems are assaulted by an inflammatory blue glow after the sun goes down, and chronic melatonin deficiency makes managing the damage impossible.
In an effort to re-align with the rhythms of nature, we at Ra Optics have crafted our own melatonin prescription to combat the draining effect of a blue-lit and microwaved world.
Cheers to harnessing the healing power of melatonin!
Written by Lucien Burke