~ Two Studies Find Melatonin Benefits the Aging

Two studies published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, one a literature review from the University of Buenos Aires (1057:327–36, 2005), and the other a clinical trial from Sun Yat-Sen University (1057:384–92, 2005), found that melatonin normalizes sleep patterns, inhibits cognitive degeneration and protects against age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in elderly individuals, a group in whom endogenous melatonin production is naturally diminished.

In their review, University of Buenos Aires researchers reported that melatonin benefits the elderly with decreased sleep latency and increased sleep efficiency, by synchronization of their circadian rhythm. They added that melatonin is of particular benefit to elderly Alzheimer's patients, in whom melatonin production has been found to be severely impaired. Melatonin decreases "sundowning" agitation and reduces variability of sleep onset time. In addition, researchers made note of open and controlled studies that have found a decrease in cognitive deterioration in Alzheimer's patients treated with melatonin. These studies suggest that melatonin promotes slow-wave sleep to augment the restorative phases of sleep, as well as protecting neurons against beta-amyloid toxicity. The review concluded that melatonin provides an innovative neuroprotective strategy to reduce the cost of lifetime treatment of some neuropsychiatric disorders by its combined chronobiotic and cytoprotective properties.

In the Chinese clinical trial, researchers tested the hypothesis that supplementing the aged with melatonin may reverse the normal physiological decrease of melatonin, thereby inhibiting oxidative damage in retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells, a precursor of AMD. In this case-control study, 100 patients with dry or wet AMD received 3 mg per day of melatonin for at least three months. Fifty-five patients were followed for more than six months. At the six month mark, visual acuity had been kept generally stable in subjects given melatonin. Further, the researchers noted the change in the fundus (interior eye surface) picture of these patients was "remarkable." The researchers concluded use of 3 mg/d of melatonin seems to protect the retina and to delay macular degeneration.

Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland through enzymes that are activated by darkness and suppressed by light to bring on sleep. Its action sets the body’s internal, circadian clock that governs the natural daily rhythm of wakefulness and sleep. Melatonin is synthesized from the neurotransmitter serotonin, which in turn is produced from the dietary amino acid tryptophan. Therefore as night and darkness approach, melatonin synthesis is stimulated, preparing the brain for sleep.

Melatonin may be helpful in individuals with difficulty falling asleep or to help “reset the body clock” of the jet lagged traveler. Melatonin has been investigated in relation to reducing stress, enhancing immune system function, and inhibiting the aging process. Melatonin tends to be produced in reduced quantities as people age. Recent studies suggest that restoration of youthful Melatonin levels may help reactivate some of the body’s immune defenses and perhaps help prevent free radical damage which is thought to be the cause many degenerative conditions.

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