Michael Pearce, Immunotec Consultant

Questions & Answers about Melatonin

Written By: Robin - Apr• 24•10

Montmorency tart cherries contain significant quantities of melatonin. That was the surprising discovery made recently at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. Dr. Russel Reiter, who has been studying melatonin for more than 30 years, headed up the research team. “Tart cherries, specifically the Montmorency variety, contain an extremely significant quantity of melatonin, enough to produce positive results in the body,” says Dr. Reiter. Here’s more information.

What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a natural hormone produced in the pineal gland at the base of the brain. Melatonin influences the sleep process and because it is an antioxidant, it can help the body destroy free radicals, which cause aging and cell death.

How does melatonin function?
The pineal gland, where melatonin is produced in the body, helps regulate hormones and circadian rhythms (daily metabolic balance). The pineal gland functions as a biological clock by secreting melatonin at night.

Melatonin levels are low during the day. At sunset, less available light signals the brain to release melatonin. This rise continues for hours, eventually peaking between 2 and 3 a.m. If the timing or intensity of the melatonin peak is disrupted due to aging, stress, or jet lag, many physiological and mental functions are adversely affected. The ability to think clearly, remember key facts, and make sound decisions can be profoundly hampered by these upsets in the biological clock (1).

What foods contain melatonin?
The highest quantities of melatonin are found in tart cherries, particularly the Montmorency variety. However, other foods such as milk, peanuts, turkey, chicken or almonds contain tryptophan, which raises brain serotonin that in turn can be converted to melatonin. Other foods, such as bananas, also contain melatonin but not in significant levels to be effective.

Does melatonin have any side effects?
Individuals who take melatonin supplements need to exercise caution, in that an overabundance of melatonin in the blood can cause insomnia and nightmares rather than peaceful sleep. Researchers point out that the maximal effective sleep-inducing dose to be 0.1 to 0.3 milligrams (mg). The amount found in tart cherries provides significant amount to positively effect sleep. However, dosages sold in over-the-counter supplements are a minimum of 2-3 mg and sometimes much higher. These levels are at least ten times the maximal effective dosage.

(1) Maurizi C. P., The therapeutic potential for tryptophan and melatonin: Possible roles in depression, sleep, Alzheimer’s disease and abnormal aging. Med Hypotheses 31 (3): 233-42, March 1990.

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