What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a small molecule made in the pineal gland inside the skull. The pineal gland isn’t part of the brain but takes its messages from the hypothalamus. Under the influence of the amount of light we experience during the day, melatonin is released to help settle the brain down in preparation for sleeping.
Melatonin doesn’t knock you out; it helps relax your brain, making you more likely to fall asleep naturally. Most people use it for jet lag; however, more recent research shows that it has uses that may extend to relieving anxiety and depression. So let’s take a deeper look at the connection between Melatonin and anxiety.
Definition of Melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland out of the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is the amino acid in some foods that makes you tired after a big meal. It is chemically related to serotonin, the brain neurotransmitter affecting mood, appetite, and sleep. Melatonin causes various changes in the body and brain to stimulate sleeping readiness.
Sources of Melatonin
Melatonin in the human body generally comes from the pineal gland. Outside this gland, the GI tract, heart, kidneys, immune cells, and other body cells make this hormone.
We also need to ensure we have the main ingredient, tryptophan; the gland needs to synthesize this hormone. Tryptophan sources in food include soybeans, cod, pork, spirulina, beef, salmon, parmesan cheese, and of course, turkey.
While Thanksgiving dinner often tires us afterward, it isn’t just the turkey that causes this effect. Many other foods have just as much tryptophan per serving as turkey.
Some foods have melatonin in them, making them good to take for anxiety. These include eggs, fish, nuts, germinated seeds, legumes, and certain mushrooms. Research shows that after eating these foods, your melatonin levels will likely rise.
Other natural sources of melatonin production come from manufacturers that use processes to extract plant-based melatonin from things like chlorella, rice, and alfalfa. Some processes retain the plant cells that each have concentrated sources of melatonin.
If you can’t eat natural sources of oral melatonin, try the synthetic forms. Melatonin can be synthesized and standardized to ensure your dose is the same in each tablet or capsule. Sublingual tablets are handy because they absorb quickly and generally have a nice flavor.
How Does Melatonin Affect Anxiety?
Research on melatonin for anxiety is ongoing; however, there is good evidence that it works well to reduce anxiety. How does it work? The research indicates a melatonin supplement has multiple effects in reducing the stress response. Melatonin supplements also appear to have antioxidant effects to protect your energy-producing mitochondria and reduce cell death under chronic anxiety conditions.
Anxiety is the stress response on autopilot and running out of control much of the time. Melatonin appears to slow this process down by addressing the sympathetic nervous system’s response to stress. This settles down many aspects of anxiety, including high blood pressure, excess blood sugar, and other stresses placed on the cardiovascular system.
By shifting the balance of the stress response toward greater relaxation, you feel less anxious and generally calmer. All the positive effects of stress reduction are seen when melatonin supplementation acts against an overactive stress response.
The Role of Serotonin in Anxiety
Reduced serotonin levels lead to certain types of anxiety, particularly anxious thinking and nervousness from obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety, and depression. The symptoms improve when you raise the serotonin levels, often with medications used to treat these problems. As you will see, melatonin has positive effects on this hormone, enhancing its ability to improve mental health.
The Role of Cortisol in Anxiety
Cortisol is the major hormone released by the adrenal glands in response to stress. When cortisol is high, secondary effects are harmful to your health, including high blood pressure and high blood sugar. When cortisol is reduced, these unwanted effects on the body are mitigated.
Melatonin’s Role in Regulating Serotonin and Cortisol
Melatonin has effects on both serotonin and cortisol. By blocking the sympathetic nervous system response, melatonin can lower cortisol to improve its long-term harmful effects on the heart and vascular system.
Serotonin is the hormone made in the process of turning tryptophan into melatonin. Melatonin seems to increase the effectiveness of serotonin, making it act synergistically with serotonin-enhancing medications and serotonin molecules already in the brain. The effect is to enhance mood, reduce anxiety, and regulate appetite.
Potential Benefits of Taking Melatonin for an Anxiety Disorder
Melatonin is not a drug. It is a hormone that has subtle but powerful effects on the human stress response. Researchers have found that melatonin is more than a hormone used to promote sleep; it seems to have the ability to manage an everyday generalized anxiety disorder without a known risk of addiction.
Improved Sleep Quality
Remember that the pineal gland releases melatonin to prepare the body for sleep. If used before bedtime, sleep quality can be enhanced. You can fall asleep more readily and will be more relaxed in the first several hours of sleep. It wears off before morning with little risk of feeling hung over or tired upon awakening.
Reduced Stress Levels
Stress will still remain all around you in your environment. The difference is that melatonin will reduce the sympathetic stress response, reducing your perception of stress. This has short and long-term beneficial health effects.
Researchers have long known that melatonin relaxes the body before bedtime without putting you to sleep. Similarly, it can cause feelings of relaxation anytime you need the hormone’s calming effects.
Q1. What is the recommended dosage of melatonin for an anxiety disorder?
Melatonin comes in many forms and strengths. The most studied doses for adults range from 3 to 14 milligrams, repeated every 6 hours if needed. If you’re just beginning, try the lowest dose before bedtime and increase it a little at a time until you sleep better. Then try it for acute anxiety, using the rapid-onset tablets for a faster effect.
Q2. Are there any side effects associated with taking melatonin for anxiety?
There are few, if any, side effects in a normal person. Daytime sleepiness, headaches, and nausea can be seen occasionally in some people who take larger or excessive doses.
Q3. Is it safe to take melatonin for long periods of time?
Melatonin treatment does not seem addictive, and no known adverse effects are seen from taking it for extended periods.
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