Melatonin is a hormone released by a tiny gland in the brain called the pineal gland. If you’ve heard of it, it’s probably in relation to sleep problems, jet lag and circadian rhythms. Indeed, melatonin does help to induce the sleep cycle; it is produced by the pineal gland in the absence of light stimulation (ie. in the dark!) which is why humans generally find it easier to go to sleep in dark rooms.
But it’s not just sleep that melatonin is involved in, it has a range of other beneficial actions in the body.
It is a powerful antioxidant and is protective against DNA mutations, which means that melatonin has anti-cancer effects. It is sometimes known as the ‘healing hormone’.
A research study on melatonin that I found particularly interesting was a study involving blind people1. The study found that blind people had a reduced incidence of cancer when compared to severely visually impaired people. This is thought to be in part due to the fact that totally blind people have higher levels of melatonin in their bodies, and this protects them against cancer development.
In fact, levels of melatonin increase in the body as soon as we close our eyes2. So not only is getting a good night’s sleep important, perhaps finding some quiet time during the day when you can close your eyes (without necessarily sleeping) could also be of benefit to your health. And for those of you who meditate (a very good way to spend quiet time), there’s good news because meditation has been found to increase levels of this healing hormone. The scientific connection between melatonin and meditation was first explored in 19953 and more research has accrued since then.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and close your eyes!
- Epidemiology.1998 Sep;9(5):490-4. Reduced cancer incidence among the blind. Feychting M,Osterlund B, Ahlbom A.
- AcupunctElectrother Res. 1993 Apr-Jun;18(2):125-51. Non-invasive evaluation of theeffects of opening & closing of eyes, and of exposure to a minute lightbeam, as well as to electrical or magnetic field on the melatonin, serotonin,& other neuro-transmitters of human pineal gland representation areas &the heart. Omura Y, Losco BM, Takeshige C.
- Universityof Massachusetts Medical Center, Department of Psychiatry, Worcester, MA, USA. Meditation,melatonin and breast/prostate cancer: Hypothesis and preliminary data. A.O.Massion , J. Teas, J.R. Hebert, M.D. Wertheimer, J. Kabat-Zinn