Melatonin research has recently gained momentum. Melatonin, a hormone supplement, has long been known to promote sleep. Ongoing research seeks to identify additional advantages to melatonin supplementation, including treating illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, boosting fertility and the immune system, and serving as an antioxidant.
Melatonin and vitamin D work together to help balance many normal biological pathways to keep us in balance.
Melatonin supplementation shows promise in aiding in the prevention or management of multiple conditions, including improving reproductive, heart, bone, and immune system health.
Further melatonin research needs to occur before we can say that melatonin is the “next vitamin D.”
Eating tryptophan-rich foods, such as turkey, meat, tofu, and eggs helps boost melatonin production.
Get sufficient exposure to sunlight, eat foods rich in vitamin D, or consult a healthcare provider about vitamin D supplementation if concerned about deficiency.
Together with melatonin, vitamin D – derived from food and sunlight – maintains several normal bodily processes, helping to preserve our equilibrium. Could melatonin supplements be the “new vitamin D”? Perhaps. However, more research is needed to evaluate the emerging science, possible clinical uses, and ways to optimize applications of melatonin.
Are melatonin & vitamin D related?
Melatonin influences our cycle of sleeping and waking (chronobiological effects). Melatonin and vitamin D have an inverse (opposite) relationship with sunlight. Deficiencies of either or both could increase the risk of heart disease, sleep disorders, kidney disease, cancer, bone diseases, diabetes and other metabolic abnormalities, and even hypertension. Both melatonin and vitamin D are required for mitochondria (the powerhouse of all cells in the body) to function correctly.
What is melatonin?
What does melatonin do? Melatonin is a hormone produced by one’s pineal gland in the brain in response to darkness (lack of sunlight). The hormone helps regulate your 24-hour clock (circadian rhythm) and, thus, your sleep-wake cycle, among other mental, behavioral, and physical changes that happen in one day. The pineal gland secretes the majority of this hormone during the night hours.
Hormone levels vary with age and sex, season, where you reside, and various other parameters. Additionally, if one has low tryptophan levels, they too may have different than expected melatonin levels. One of the essential amino acids, tryptophan, is a prerequisite for synthesizing melatonin. When tryptophan levels are low, melatonin levels may also be below average.
Reasons to be low on melatonin
Why would one have a low melatonin level? Low melatonin may occur due to insufficient sun exposure, low dietary intake, and a lack of a consistent bedtime routine. Additional causes may include low tryptophan levels, shift work, jet lag, certain medications such as beta-blockers or other heart medications, and even diseases affecting the brain, such as Alzheimer’s.
Some concern exists related to the artificial light (blue light) produced by electronic devices such as cell phones, TVs, reading devices like Kindle, and computer screens. This blue light sends mixed signals to the brain and may decrease melatonin production, as the brain doesn’t fully process that it is dark outside. Some electronics nowadays have blue light filters or a night mode. This helps lessen the exposure at times when your body should secrete melatonin and signal the body to become sleepy.
So, if we lack the darkness hormone, should we supplement it? Does it have more benefits than just as a sleep aid? Ongoing research suggests that perhaps there may be benefits in a variety of areas.
What is vitamin D?
While vitamin D can be obtained from food, sufficient production requires exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D is a vitamin that helps regulate the body’s phosphorus and calcium metabolism. Additionally, it helps maintain healthy bones. Furthermore, this vitamin plays a vital role in how our immune, nervous, and musculoskeletal systems (bones/muscles) function.
Vitamin D comes in two forms: D2 and D3. The first is made from plants and mushrooms and found in yeast, and the latter is made in the skin and found naturally, for example, in oily fish. Regardless of the form, once it enters the body, it then converts to an active state via various steps in the body.
Vitamin D deficiency (low levels) commonly occurs worldwide. Vitamin D deficiency is often suggested to result from a “sunlight deficiency,” which arises in many people who spend most of their lives indoors. People who work long hours inside live in parts of the world with less sunlight per day, or in climates that don’t permit much outdoor time are at higher risk for low levels of vitamin D. Those who cover up when outside for personal or religious reasons or those with darker skin pigments and those with some underlying diseases may also suffer from vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D deficiency symptoms
People suffering from low vitamin D levels may experience weakness, moodiness (depression, anxiety), muscle pains, bone pain, and even tiredness. Supplementing with vitamin D improves clinical signs and quality of life. People feel more energized, have an uplifted mood, and feel stronger.
So, is melatonin the new vitamin D?
No. However, research shows that melatonin and vitamin D work together in the body to protect it and maintain normal everyday functions (maintain homeostasis). So, perhaps in the future, the answer will be different.
In a 2022 review article by Minich et al., researchers looked at recent research and possible uses and safety of melatonin. Researchers discussed that vitamin D and sunlight’s roles may be compared to the benefits of melatonin and how it relates to darkness. They recognize that a mutual cooperation (synergism) effect seems to occur in the body when vitamin D and melatonin are in proper balance.
Theoretically, melatonin should be incredibly beneficial against various ailments and provide improved outcomes similar to vitamin D.
Since melatonin serves so many different physiological functions in the body, the potential advantages of supplementation suggest favorable impacts in several ways. Melatonin may:
- Improve heart health (cardiovascular disease).
- Aid in blood pressure management.
- Provide immune protection (seasonal and varies with levels in the body).
- Have anti-cancer properties.
- Act as an antioxidant - (improve damage done to oxygen in the body, e.g., vitamins C and E).
- Act as an anti-inflammatory supplement.
- Help to decrease obesity.
- Aid in bone metabolism.
- Provide reproductive benefits, e.g., improving fertility.
- Improved in vitro fertilization (IVF) success rates.
- Act as protection against damage (oxidative stress) during radiation therapy for cancer.
While these all sound great, to date, research isn’t sufficient to proclaim melatonin as the ‘next vitamin D.’ What we know occurs in the body and makes sense scientifically hasn’t sufficiently been demonstrated with studies to suggest that it is, in fact, the ‘new vitamin D.’ But stay tuned as hopefully, we can answer this shortly.
Is melatonin safe?
That is hard to say. In a 2020 review article, the authors discuss numerous possible benefits and evaluate the research. But their final conclusions about safety and effectiveness for various types of benefits are inconclusive. While much research is out there, few high-level research, such as randomized controlled trials (RCTs), exist. More RCTs and long-term studies are necessary to determine proper doses, side effects, and best uses.
Commonly reported melatonin side effects include:
- Daytime sleepiness;
Other side effects may occur at non-sleep aid doses. Adverse effects need to be further evaluated with additional research.
Melatonin and drug reactions
Remember that even though melatonin is a hormone your body typically produces, taking it as a supplement isn’t 100% without risk. Melatonin may interact with medications, e.g., blood thinners, anti-seizure medications, blood pressure drugs, and even diabetes meds or birth control. So, always make sure to check with healthcare providers before taking it.
Optimizing melatonin intake
Lifestyle changes may further aid in sleep health and overall well-being. Furthermore, steps may assist in maintaining a healthy balance of vitamin D (vitamin) and melatonin (hormone) to help regulate your body without needing to supplement.
Steps to take to boost melatonin and vitamin D levels may include:
- Exercise. Daily exercise means 30 minutes of activity.
- Avoiding caffeine. Don't drink caffeinated beverages (or other stimulants) after midday.
- Avoiding large meals. Also avoid foods likely to cause reflux before bedtime.
- Relax. Turn off devices and TV, and have a calming routine before bed.
- Routine. Have a regular daily routine (getting up and bedtime should be consistent every day).
- Practice self-care. Meditation, yoga, or mindfulness, coloring or reading, whatever relaxes you.
- Sunshine. Get regular exposure to sunlight when feasible, as 90% of vitamin D production occurs secondary to exposure to sunlight.
- Sources. Eat food sources rich in vitamin D, including eggs, fish, soy products, button mushrooms, and fortified products like milk and cereals.
- Tryptophan. Eat foods rich in tryptophan, such as chicken or turkey, meat, firm tofu, fish, dairy products, or eggs, to help boost melatonin production.
How can we improve our melatonin uptake and enhance our quality of life? Food, supplements, and lifestyle may all play a role in enhancing melatonin intake and outcomes. However, consult your physician or other healthcare providers before taking any supplements. Always ensure that the supplement is right for you, safe for you, doesn’t interact with any of your medications and that you use the proper dose.
Excess vitamins and hormones can cause side effects and potentially harm your health. Always base your decision to take a supplement on scientific evidence, not because it may be the latest trend. Further research into the full benefits of melatonin supplementation remains ongoing. This research must be continued before blanket recommendations can be made about using the supplement and any expected benefits, especially as it compares to vitamin D supplementation. Further evaluation of the relationship between vitamin D and melatonin is warranted.
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