Melatonin Levels Linked to Lower Diabetes Risk

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Researchers have found that higher levels of the hormone melatonin in men may be linked to a decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Let’s take a look at melatonin, what it does, and how to ensure that you have healthy melatonin levels.


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What is melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the tiny pineal gland in the brain. The pineal gland releases melatonin, a hormone produced primarily at night. Melatonin synthesis and release are stimulated by darkness. The pineal gland's melatonin release controls your body's clock, including the day-to-day circadian sleep/wake cycle, and the biological clock that schedules hormonal milestones such as puberty and menopause.


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The role of melatonin

Based on its role in circadian rhythm and sleep, melatonin is used as a sleep aid and can help prevent jet lag and reset the body clock to new time zones. Melatonin has also been studied in night shift workers who have difficulty sleeping.


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Melatonin and hormones

Italian physician Walter Pierpaoli, MD created interest in melatonin in 1996 with his book, The Melatonin Miracle: Nature's Age-Reversing, Disease-Fighting, Sex-Enhancing Hormone. The book introduced Americans to melatonin, which had just become available over-the-counter a few years earlier. In the book, Dr. Pierpaoli promoted melatonin not only as a sleep aid and jet lag remedy but also for its potential ability to enhance the immune system and fight cancer.


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Resetting the pineal clock

Dr. Pierpaoli also contributed to an article in the December 2005 Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, titled Reversal of Aging: Resetting the Pineal Clock. This article explored the perspective that melatonin is a chemical mediator for hormones. Dr. Pierpaoli theorized that melatonin could re-synchronize not only the circadian rhythms of the wake-sleep cycles but the endocrine system overall.


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Melatonin and type 2 diabetes

A study published in 2018 in the journal Clinical Endocrinology found that older Japanese men with higher levels of melatonin had a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. Study author Kenji Obayashi, MD, PhD told Endocrine Today that “melatonin could play a role in preventing diabetes mellitus, possibly through the multiple pathways involved in beta-cell function and insulin resistance.” More testing is needed to validate the data, and explore the potential effects in women.


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Melatonin and the risk of type 2 diabetes

How does melatonin potentially reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes? More research is needed, but there is evidence that a dysregulated circadian rhythm can impair metabolism, and contribute to the risk of type 2 diabetes risk. Also, melatonin may facilitate better thyroid function, and an underactive thyroid is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Melatonin also helps to balance cortisol levels. High cortisol is associated with insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes.


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Measuring your melatonin levels

Your doctor can test your melatonin levels with a blood test, urine test or saliva test. Many doctors don’t feel testing is necessary, however, and recommend patients start with a small dose of melatonin — such as .5 or 1 mg — and work up to 3 mg per night.


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Supplementing with melatonin

If you're interested in supplementing with melatonin, after you speak with your physician, choose your brand carefully. Make sure you are getting pure, pharmaceutical grade melatonin. Experts also suggest that you use only synthetic melatonin and not a melatonin product derived from animals.


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Melatonin’s side effects

The main side effects of low-dose melatonin appear to be some morning grogginess, vivid dreams, and nightmares. A small percentage of melatonin users have a mild morning headache after use.


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The safety of melatonin

There aren’t any published long-term studies evaluating the data on low-dose melatonin. But all the doctors I've spoken with – many who use low-dose melatonin themselves and recommend it to patients – feel that based on the results of shorter-term studies, we are not likely to discover any problems with the longer-term use of low-dose melatonin. Melatonin should not, however, be used by women who are pregnant or lactating.