Melatonin is a hormone made in the brain to help control your sleep and wake cycles. Light affects how much melatonin your body produces, less in the shorter days of winter and more in the longer days of summer. Also, unfortunately as we age, melatonin production often decreases.
Melatonin, the ‘sleep hormone’, is produced from serotonin; using vitamin B5 and SAMe. If there is a defect in the methylation pathway, this conversion can be slowed down. There are other areas of slowdown in the methylation pathway that can also effect the production of serotonin and melatonin.
Using melatonin to regulate sleep can be life changing for children diagnosed with autism; and their care givers. A review by Rossignol et al. showed that eighteen studies on melatonin treatment in autism reported improvements in sleep duration, sleep onset latency, and night-time awakenings. Five of these studies were randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover studies; two of the studies contained blended samples of children with autism and other developmental disorders, but only data for children with autism were used in the meta-analysis. The meta-analysis, which is considered the best type of study to identify benefit, found significant improvements with in sleep duration.
Melatonin, however, has a larger role to play in development beyond its function as a synchronizer of the biological clock. Melatonin is a hormone that helps in the regulation of the gastrointestinal system. The gut is 100% responsible for post-natal development. In the gut, melatonin, governs intestinal reflexes, motility, the immune function, gut secretions, energy balance, pain regulation and protects against inflammation. The gut contains at least 400 times more melatonin than the pineal gland and produces its own melatonin. It plays a large role in maintaining gut health; both in a healthy digestive tract and in gut disorders. Children diagnosed with autism have alterations in their gut flora in addition to higher prevalence of constipation, diarrhea, reflux and pain. The balance of good bacteria in their microbiome is not the same as typically developing children. Melatonin levels change gut flora and improve anti-microbial actions. With the startling numbers of children experiencing both gut issues and sleep issues, this new research about melatonin’s role in gastrointestinal health could provide clues about treatment and repair of these biological systems.
Other interesting information about melatonin:
- Melatonin is also synthesized by the bone marrow cells, white blood cells, mast cells and skin cells
- It is a powerful antioxidant
- Melatonin helps to protect mitochondria from oxidative stress which damages cells
- Melatonin also helps to support glutathione Glutathione is widely considered the most important antioxidant in the body
- There is research to support that melatonin helps to support healthy immune function by fighting infectious disease including viral and bacterial infections
- Melatonin has shown some promise in modulating the immune function in autoimmune disease
- Melatonin in autism spectrum disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis DANIEL A ROSSIGNOL1 | RICHARD E FRYE2 1 International Child Development Resource Center, Melbourne, FL, USA. 2 Division of Child and Adolescent Neurology and Children’s Learning Institute, Department of Pediatrics, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Houston, TX, USA. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology.
- S. Jill James,*,1Shannon Rose,*Stepan Melnyk,* Stefanie Jernigan,* Sarah Blossom,* Oleksandra Pavliv,* and David W. Gaylor† Cellular and mitochondrial glutathione redox imbalance in lymphoblastoid cells derived from children with autism. FASEB J. 2009 Aug; 23(8): 2374–2383.