While scientists are frantically working to develop a vaccine against the COVID-19 virus, and exploring possible cures, we are a long way off from either one.
That means that it’s more important than ever to stay informed about ways to strengthen our immune system so that it can fight not only the coronavirus, but other viruses and infections that will make us an easy mark for COVID-19.
So you’ll want to read on and learn about how melatonin, a hormone we naturally produce, and a supplement many of us take in order to improve our sleep, is a powerful immune system booster.
It also protects the lungs and guards against inflammation, two things that could help prevent a COVID-19 infection.
3 ways melatonin boosts the immune system
1) Melatonin “turns on” T-cells. We now know that our white blood cells have melatonin receptors and that the hormone appears to attach to these cells at these sites and “turn on” their immune capacity.
2) Melatonin offers immune cells “clean” antioxidant protection. Melatonin can protect cells without triggering the production of free radicals, those unstable molecules that can damage cells in your body.
Studies show that melatonin increases the action of phagocytes, those white blood cells that go around gobbling up pathogens, like little PacMen in the video game.
3) Melatonin protects an aging immune system. As we age, two things naturally happen: our immune system weakens, and our melatonin levels drop. Research points to a direct connection between these two things.
In one study, researchers gave aging mice a melatonin supplement late at night and found that the mice began to produce greater numbers of immune molecules. The researchers were able to predict immune function based on the amount of melatonin in each mouse’s bloodstream just before bedtime.
This suggests that, for older adults, taking a melatonin supplement in the evening may be just the thing to boost their immune system and help with a good night’s sleep.
It also could be part of why children seem to be so much less susceptible to COVID-19 infections. They produce up to 10 times the amount of natural melatonin that an older adult does.
Melatonin protects the lungs
Recent research has shown that melatonin binds to NLRP3 inflammasomes, the receptors associated with COVID-19’s attack on the lungs. By getting to these receptors first, melatonin may offer help in preventing injury to lungs from the coronavirus, or in making that injury far less serious.
Also, the antioxidant action of melatonin is known to control the excessive production of pro-inflammatory cytokines that can cause a life-threatening situation for people with COVID-19 infections.
How melatonin may head off a “cytokine storm”
Researchers at Anhui Medical University in Hefei, China, gave melatonin to mice that were infected with Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), a common and extremely contagious virus of the respiratory tract.
Not only did melatonin reverse the indicators of oxidative stress in the mice, but it also inhibited the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
In many people with COVID-19 infection, the immune system can get out of control and continue to produce these disease-fighting cytokines, long after the infection has been taken care of.
Cytokines attack vital organs, including the lungs and liver, in their misguided attempt to protect the body from an infection that isn’t there. This phenomenon has come to be known as a cytokine storm, and it could be the cause of death for many relatively young, healthy people who succumb to the COVID-19 virus.
Why sleep matters now more than ever
Your body needs sleep to fight infectious diseases. Long-term lack of sleep also increases your risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease.
Your melatonin levels are naturally at their highest starting at about 9 p.m., and are higher during the dark, nighttime hours than they are in daylight.
That’s why it’s important to sleep in a darkened bedroom, without the lights of computer screens, cell phones or, ideally, even a night light. The darker the room, the more melatonin can be produced.
And since spring and summer mean more daylight hours, it’s vital that you find a way to darken your bedroom when you go to sleep.
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- COVID-19: Melatonin as a potential adjuvant treatment — National Center for Biotechnology Information
- Inhibitory effect of melatonin on lung oxidative stress induced by respiratory syncytial virus infection in mice. — National Center for Biotechnology Information
- COVID-19: Melatonin as a potential adjuvant treatment — Life Sci.
- Hormones and immune function: implications of aging — Aging Cell
- Oxidative stress in phagocytic cells: Changes with age and effect of melatonin — ResearchGate
- Melatonin and Respiratory Diseases: A Review — ResearchGate