In this article, SSISA sleep scientist, Chadley Kemp, explains the potential benefits of supplemental melatonin to help decrease heart disease risk.
THE BURDEN OF HEART DISEASE AND OBESITY
Heart disease represents a major public health concern around the world. Every year over 17 million people die from heart disease, with 80% of deaths resulting from stroke and heart attacks. Obesity is a modifiable risk factor for heart disease, and is frequently associated with other health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. There is evidence that a modern lifestyle comprising a lack of exercise, poor nutrition and poor sleep threatens our health by increasing our risk for obesity, and its related diseases. Therefore, traditional approaches to reducing risk for obesity and heart disease typically address exercise, nutrition, and more recently sleep. Since the hormone melatonin plays a critical role in sleep and influences numerous cellular and biological processes, it may be worth considering as a novel way in which to reduce risk for heart disease.
WHAT IS MELATONIN?
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone, produced in the pineal gland in our brain just after sunset. Although its primary role in humans is to entrain (or synchronize) our bodies 24h clock (i.e. circadian rhythm) with our environment, it is also involved in many other biological processes. These processes include regulating our blood pressure, bone formation, kidney function, and immunity. Clinical use of melatonin tablets to reset a disrupted body clock (e.g. in response to jet lag, or shift work) is nothing new. However, there are now some schools of thought that supplemental melatonin may also serve as an alternative to traditional drug and lifestyle intervention therapies in reducing risk for obesity and heart disease. Here are three reasons why:
3 HEALTH BENEFITS OF MELATONIN
1. MELATONIN IS AN ANTI-OXIDANT
Our bodies are adept at maintaining a balance between different biological processes (homeostasis). When this balance is disturbed and can no longer be maintained, the result often leads to disease. One such disturbance is observed when our body can no longer balance the production and removal of potentially harmful oxidizing agents, resulting in an increase in free radicals. Melatonin acts as an anti-oxidant by scavenging free radicals and/or preventing the accumulation of harmful waste products, thereby protecting key energy-producing organelles (mitochondria) and possibly protecting our cells against DNA damage.
2. MELATONIN REDUCES INFLAMMATION
The build-up of fat in white adipose tissue may contribute to mild inflammation that over time leads to reduced tolerance to glucose and insulin resistance. Both of these increase a person’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Melatonin appears to assist by acting as an inflammatory cushion, reducing the release of pro-inflammatory messengers and increasing the release of anti-inflammatory messengers. Moreover, melatonin may also prevent insulin resistance by safe guarding important steps in insulin production.
3. MELATONIN CAN REDUCE BLOOD PRESSURE
There is some evidence to suggest that melatonin may reduce blood pressure, prevent blood clotting and reduce circulating levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL-C), all of which are risk factors for heart disease.
Supplemental melatonin may help decrease the risk for developing obesity and heart disease, by reducing inflammation, oxidative damage, blood pressure and improving sleep quality through resetting the body’s 24h clock and synchronizing it with the natural light/dark cycle of our environment. However, it’s still unclear to what extent synthetic melatonin drugs has in sharing the same protective capacity as hormonal melatonin. Additionally, because melatonin has pronounced effects on multiple biological systems, it is important that it only be taken under the strict supervision of a trained medical professional.
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BY CHADLEY KEMP
SSISA SLEEP SCIENTIST
Cardinali, D.P. and Vigo, D.E., 2017. Melatonin, mitochondria, and the metabolic syndrome. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, 74(21), pp.3941-3954.
Altun, A. and Ugur‐Altun, B., 2007. Melatonin: therapeutic and clinical utilization. International journal of clinical practice, 61(5), pp.835-845.
http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs317/en/ [accessed October 25, 2017]