The chemical structure of melatonin makes it able to travel throughout the body quickly and efficiently. Melatonin has properties making both compatible with water and with fat. This is known as amphiphilic. This attribute allows melatonin to easily enter cell, fluid or other structure in the body.
It was first discovered in 1958. It was extracted from the pineal glands of cattle. The first researchers discovered melatonin's ability to lighten the skin of frogs and fish. This led them to believe that it was potentially useful for treating various skin conditions.
In the 1970s, it was observed that the pineal gland released melatonin in conjunction with the circadian rhythm. Since then, more research has discovered melatonin's roles in helping toregulate the sleep-wake cycle. More recently, it was also found that melatonin also has antioxidant properties.
The most widely researched function of melantonin is its functioning in helping to maintain the circadian rhythm. From the age of three months, levels of melatonin in the body correspond to a cyclical pattern that persists throughout life. In animals, the internal sleep-wake clock is located within two collections of cells located in the hypothalamus. This is known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus. Based on the daily cycle of dark and light, the suprachiasmatic nucleus initiates and maintains a daily cycle.
During certain times of the day (cycle), particular hormones are released. Late in the afternoon and through the evening, the body begins to prepare for sleep. During the early morning, the body begins to preprare for waking up. Buried within the center of the brain, the pineal gland, releases melatonin when it gets dark. On the other hand, when light begins to appear, the pineal gland slows the release of melatonin.
The most recent research has observed that even if a person has no access to sources of light or time, the body tends to maintains a regular circadian rhythm. The average, naturally-occurring rhythm is around 24.2 hours.
Some of the other functions of melatonin are as an antioxidant, as a component of metal chelation, and in the normal functioning of the immune system.
Melatonin has been used as a treatment for a myriad of sleep disorders. These treatments have had varying rates of success. The best indicators for melatonin as a successful treatment for sleep disorders are for those whose problems are rooted in behavior, development, or who are suffering from a mental disorder. Melatonin has also been shown to be effective for treaing problems falling asleeping for older people and children, insomnia arrising from jet lag, or insominia arising from having delayed sleep phase syndrome.
However, even though it has been shown that melatonin serves a crucial role in maintaining healthy and regular sleep cycles, taking a melatonin supplement absent the presence of an underlying condition does not seem to result in sleep being longer or deeper.
Side effects of melatonin
According to most indications, melatonin has few potential side effects. Various clinical studies have measured short-term use, low-dose use, and regular use of up to three months, and have observed no negative effects. One study indicated that negatives side-effects, including headache, drowsiness, and nausea occurred at equal rates for both melatonin and a placebo.
Source: Medical News Today.