I have been hearing a lot of things about this hormone melatonin being a sleeping aid and an anti-aging product. I would like to know what melatonin really is. Where does it come from? If it is a hormone, is there a melatonin gland that produces it?
There has been a lot of hype over natural products lately, one of them natural sleeping aids like melatonin supplements. Advertisements here and there are feeding the public with so much information and we are buying it! But do we really know what melatonin is? Where it came from and what it does to our body?
Melatonin, now gaining popularity as a natural sleeping aid, is a human hormone produced by the pineal gland. This small endocrine gland that is shaped like a pine cone, also known as the melatonin gland, is located at the center of our brain, tucked snugly between the two hemispheres in front of the cerebellum.
Melatonin gland is the endocrine gland that produces melatonin which is then released into the blood. The melatonin gland is mainly composed of two types of cells: pinealocytes and glial cells. The pinealocytes are the specific cells responsible for the production and secretion of the melatonin hormone.
Melatonin helps control the body’s circadian rhythm, telling our body when to sleep and when to awaken. Production of this hormone by the melatonin gland is suppressed by light and is stimulated by darkness, which is why melatonin is also referred to as “the hormone of darkness”.
Since melatonin is considered a potent antioxidant and prevents the development of cancer cells, it would explain the higher rates of cancer development among night workers and the overall increased incidence of cancer in our modern world where there is abundant artificial lighting.
Also, melatonin has been proven to diminish motor activity and induce drowsiness when increased which normally happens during nighttime and in dark environments. This is the main reason why melatonin is now popular as a sleeping aid especially in cases of jet lag and shift work sleep disorder wherein there is disruption of the melatonin cycles.
In studies that have been conducted by experts, removal of the melatonin gland in animals increases the incidence of breast cancer and other cancers. But whether or not it has a significant effect on the circadian rhythm, it is still yet to be proven.