Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland, a small organ set behind and between the eyes. This gland receives direct input from the eyes so that it knows when it is daytime and nighttime. Melatonin is released in spurts at night to initiate sleep, and wanes upon daybreak, when bright light signals the production to shut down.

Because of this, taking melatonin at bedtime can be effective in resetting the clock of a person who changes time zones, thereby alleviating “jet lag.”

Melatonin & Aging

Melatonin levels are highest in children, and less and less melatonin is produced as we age. By age 60, we produce less than 50 % of the melatonin as we did at 20.

Pineal gland transplanted from old mice to young mice was found to speed up the aging, whereas the reverse made the old mice regain youthful functions. Melatonin supplementation also extended the life span of mice by 25%.

Thymus gland is a key organ of the immune system involved in the production of T-cells to fight diseases. It is largest when the melatonin levels are highest around puberty, and shrinks as the melatonin levels decline. Melatonin supplementation in mice was found to increases the weight of the thymus gland again.

Melatonin Replacement

It is recommended that patients take melatonin regularly at bedtime starting at age 50 and increasing the doses as they get older. To find the dose that works for you, start with the lowest amount, about 0.5 to 1mg, 1 to 2 hours before bedtime. Decrease the amount if you feel drowsy in the morning, or increase it if you have trouble sleeping.

There are two types of melatonin that may be used in these pills: natural and synthetic. Natural melatonin is made from the pineal gland of animals. This form could be contaminated with a virus and is therefore not recommended. The synthetic form of melatonin does not carry this risk.

Potential Benefits

Melatonin is a strong anti-oxidant that removes the harmful free radicals from the body. Free radicals are major contributors to aging and the diseases of old age – heart disease, cancer and autoimmune disorders.

Melatonin also boosts the immune system, particularly those aspects that fight cancers.

A common problem with aging is difficulty sleeping. Melatonin reduces the time to fall asleep, increases actual sleeping time, reduces the number of awakenings, and increases the quality of sleep. Better and deeper sleep in turn promotes more secretion of human growth hormone.

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