Melatonin is best known as a natural sleep remedy. Many people supplement with this hormone when they’ve been experiencing restless sleep, or trouble falling asleep. It smooths things out, and helps the brain and body settle for the night.
But research has now shown us that we should be taking melatonin supplements even if we’re sleeping well.
Because, if you start taking it soon enough, you may just be able to fend off Alzheimer’s disease…
How melatonin helps us sleep
Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by the pineal gland located in the brain, just behind our eyes. Melatonin levels rise and fall throughout the day, reaching a high in the evening and falling in the morning.
This daily rhythm regulates our 24-hour circadian cycle of light and dark, allowing us to fall asleep, stay asleep, and have enough REM (deep) sleep. Melatonin production is triggered by darkness and suppressed by light, which is why sleeping in a completely dark room is so crucial.
In 1992, melatonin became available as a nutritional supplement. Many people now use it as a sleep aid, although it’s not a sedative. Instead, it helps regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycles and makes it easier to stick to a regular sleep pattern.
As we age, our production of melatonin decreases and sleep may become more problematic. Melatonin supplements can be a safe alternative to prescription sleeping pills.
And there’s a bonus: research tells us that keeping your melatonin levels high could save you from more than just a night of counting sheep…
The melatonin-Alzheimer’s connection
We now know that melatonin deficiency is one of the earliest warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
This is not to say, of course, that every older adult who lacks melatonin develops Alzheimer’s. But sleep disorders like “sundowning” occur in about 45 percent of Alzheimer’s sufferers.
“Sundowning” is a term used to describe a disturbance in circadian rhythm where, instead of winding down at the end of the day, a person becomes more active and agitated toward evening.
Research has shown that melatonin supplements can slow and even reverse these changes if they are started soon enough, preferably at the first sign of a sleep disturbance.
Melatonin protects brain cells
There are four mechanisms by which melatonin guards against Alzheimer’s disease:
- It protects neurons. Researchers used the drug Haldol® to induce symptoms including memory deficits and changes in brain protein in rats. Melatonin supplements reversed these symptoms.
- Melatonin is also an antioxidant that scavenges free radicals. What makes it even more powerful than many antioxidants found in food is that it can cross the blood-brain barrier, having a more direct effect on brain cells.
- It attacks harmful proteins. High levels of amyloid beta and tau proteins are known to play a key role in the brain destruction of Alzheimer’s. Melatonin has been found to reduce the damage done by these proteins.
- It guards against aluminum. Exposure to aluminum through vaccines or medications is known to produce Alzheimer’s-like changes to the brain. In animal research, melatonin has reduced the learning and memory deficits caused by aluminum.
Start supplementing before symptoms occur
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a condition that precedes actual dementia. About 12 percent of people with MCI go on to develop dementia each year.
People who took between three and 24 mg of fast-acting melatonin supplements daily for 15 to 60 months performed significantly better on a range of cognitive assessment scales and tests of memory.
If you are in your 40s and beyond, it’s not too early to start supplementing with melatonin to protect yourself from Alzheimer’s.
The best time to take it is in the evening about an hour before bedtime.
Foods to boost melatonin
Like most other healthful compounds, melatonin boosters can be found in abundance in food. The list of foods that contain melatonin or help your body produce more melatonin may be short, but they are all readily available and can be used in many healthy and flavorful recipes.
Foods that boost melatonin include:
- Sour cherries
- Ginger root
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- Melatonin LOWERS the risk of dementia and stroke, multiple studies reveal — NaturalHealth365.com
- Melatonin: The Brain Hormone — Life Extension
- Role of melatonin in Alzheimer-like neurodegeneration — Acta Pharmacologica Sinica
- Melatonin prevents beta-amyloid-induced lipid peroxidation — Journal of Pineal Research
- Therapeutic application of melatonin in mild cognitive impairment — American Journal of Neurodegenerative Disease