Melatonin is a hormone that is well established as a significant antioxidant, as well as an important hormone for healthy and restorative sleep. It has also been increasingly implicated to have anti-aging and obesity benefits as well as mitochondrial function. Suffice to say that healthy melatonin function is important to our health at any age, but particularly as we pass 50. But where does it come from and how can we maximise it?
To produce melatonin you need the raw building blocks. This is the amino acid tryptophan. It’s found in things like turkey, milk, nuts, and tuna. Just eating the food with the tryptophan is not enough necessarily. The following chart will help to explain.
You can see down the left side of the chart that you have a list of nutrients. Things like magnesium, zinc and iron. You need these nutrients to convert the tryptophan into melatonin. If they are deficient in your diet, you will have issues in converting the tryptophan to melatonin.
As a result, you will therefore not have enough melatonin for optimal function. When you look at the literature it’s clear there are a lot of people with magnesium, zinc and iron deficiencies.
The next aspect to consider is across the top of the chart. The toxic metals like mercury, aluminium and, in excess, copper. What the toxic metals do is “block” the good nutrient from working. This means that you could have the zinc present in the body in adequate amounts but if you have mercury present it will stop the zinc from functioning.
It gets worse.
Toxic metals have differing strengths of antagonism. For example one mercury will block up to 1000 zinc. That’s pretty strong antagonism. Copper can block up to 6 zinc. If you have high copper, mercury and aluminium, which is somewhat common, you will not be able to use your zinc. As a result you will not be able to convert your tryptophan into melatonin and you will then have melatonin deficiency.
The pineal gland gets most of the recognition for producing melatonin. This is not really accurate.
Red Light Therapy
A lessor known source of melatonin production is from exposure to red light and near infrared light which is known as photobiomodulation. The paper titled Aging of lymphoid organs: Can photobiomodulation reverse age-associated thymic involution via stimulation of extrapineal melatonin synthesis and bone marrow stem cells? states that “a review of the literature suggests that not only retinal, but also whole body and intranasal irradiation with red light leads to a notable increase in serum melatonin levels in humans.”
Red light and near infrared light increases melatoinin production independent of the pineal gland.
This is important.
Traditionally, before electricity, we only had candle light and fire after sunset. We also witnessed every sunset. The point being we were exposed to much higher levels of red light and this in turn would help to raise or maintain our melatonin level. Think back to how well you slept on your last camping trip and you will know what I mean.
If you are wondering how to do this at home you can either use red LED lamps to light up your home or you can mimic sunset and fire at the same time with a near infrared sauna which is our personal favourite.
So far, we’ve looked at production.
- You need to get tryptophan.
- We need to have the right nutrients to convert it.
- There can’t be toxic metals blocking the conversion.
- You need to have adequate red light exposure.
Now you need to keep your levels naturally high and not accidentally deplete them.
The main thing to be aware of here is blue light exposure. This is the sort of light you get from overhead lights, TV’s, laptops, computers, tablets and mobile phones. The light decimates our melatonin. This is quite well documented and yet it amazes me that more people don’t pay attention. Here is one quick example in the literature. “Melatonin suppressions after 1-h and 2-h exposures to tablets viewed with the blue light were significantly greater than zero.” Have a google search to confirm for yourself how important this is.
One solution is to turn you devices off.
A bit harsh…..yes, but very successful.
If this isn’t possible then consider using a pair of blue-light blocking glasses. These filter out the blue light and only allow in the red which then does not interfere with your natural melatonin production.
Another home based thing you can do to help maximise your melatonin levels is to get a hair mineral analysis. This test will assess your levels of nutrients and toxic metals in the tissues. If you identify issues then you can address them. It’s always best to work on root causes of problems and not go chasing our tails around.
Finally you can monitor your sleep. You can use watch based apps or for best results consider a OURA ring. If you can assess your deep and REM sleep you can then look for patterns that have interrupted your sleep and look to correct them. For example, if I don’t wear my red light blocking glasses I notice a decrease in my deep sleep. Another example is if I eat a meal too late I don’t sleep well.
Melatonin production and preservation is a critical piece to our overall health management. Even more so as we pass 50. Hopefully these tips and pointers will help you get a deeper and more refreshing sleep and help you to restore your energy.
Yours in Health,
Dr. Todd Lizon, (Chiropractor)
We care deeply about your metabolic health here at Lifestyle Integration.
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