Over the past few years, melatonin has become one of the most widely used and misused over the counter supplements. This so called wonder drug or melatonin benefits owes much of its success to the miracle of modern marketing, not modern science. It was hyped by the media as a super drug that slows down aging, prevents disease, cures insomnia, is non toxic and is available on the shelf of your local drug store at a cost of about three bucks for a month´s supply.
Considering all the attention melatonin has received recently, people tend to view it as little more than hype. This could not be further from the truth.
Based on today´s evidence, many experts believe that melatonin may indeed provide an impressive array of health benefits, especially in older individuals. The list of potential uses includes treatment of sleep disorders, depressed immune system, cancer, hypertension, atherosclerosis, diabetes and Alzheimer´s disease. Melatonin is a potent antioxidant that may also reduce damage caused by stress. An extensive study of melatonin in humans has just begun. At this point, most of melatonin´s benefits have yet to be proven.
Although several short term human studies are currently in the works, no long term human studies have been completed, which leaves unclear questions about its anti aging potential as well as its long term melatonin side effects. Mice who received melatonin throughout the second half of their lives had a twenty percent increase in life span.
Melatonin is a molecule found in every plant and animal on earth. After emerging as part of living organisms about three billion years ago, its essential structure remains unchanged. This type of structural conservatism is usually found only in substances essential to life.
Melatonin peaks before puberty and drops precipitously afterwards. In fact, recent research indicates that the decrease in melatonin during the early teens is one of the key factors in the onset of sexual maturation. It was found that children whose puberty was delayed tend to have excessively high melatonin levels and those who mature unusually early often produce too little melatonin. After maturity, the levels of melatonin continue to drop. In 40 year old, melatonin levels are usually about a third of those found in young adults. Melatonin is barely detectable in 60 year olds. This decline appears to be not just a consequence of aging, but actually a contributing factor to the aging process.
As we mentioned, food restriction is the most potent known method of life extension in animals. Researchers found that food restriction causes a marked rise in melatonin levels, and may be one of the mechanisms through which restricting food intake increases life span. A definitive answer, however, can be obtained only by a study in which animals are put on a restricted diet in addition to being treated with a drug that suppresses melatonin production. If they fail to live longer than control animals, then we can presume that melatonin is essential for some of the anti aging effects of food restriction. The melatonin benefit to affect the rate of sexual development and extend life in animals may have to do with the central aging clock. This clock paces both the development and aging of the body.