Melatonin, a natural hormone that promotes sleep and stimulates immune function, is produced in the center of the brain by the pineal gland. It works to regulate sleeping pattern, circadian rhythms, aging, mood and functions of the immune system. However, despite the mentioned benefits, people suffering from autoimmune diseases are asked by medical experts to use melatonin with caution or avoid it altogether.
Before discussing further the relationship between melatonin and the immune system as well as the hormone’s effects on autoimmune diseases, let us first look at the production and biochemical properties of this hormone to understand things more clearly.
Production of this hormone is stimulated by darkness. Melatonin levels are low during the day and high from sunset to nighttime. Levels reach their peak at 2 a.m. Disruptions in the production of melatonin such as jet lag, shift from work, or aging, may negatively affect mental and physiological functions. Low melatonin levels are linked to the increase of risk in certain forms of cancer such as breast and prostate.
This hormone influences the body’s immune response through the stimulation of interleukin-4 in T cells. It also reduces oxidative stress in the body, prolongs REM sleep, curbs the growth of tumor and improves production of sex steroids.
Autoimmune diseases are caused by the immune system’s overactive response against the body’s own healthy cells. The body’s immune function is to fight off diseases and protect it from infection. When you have this kind of disease, the system makes the mistake of attacking the healthy cells in your body.
There are over 80 types of autoimmune diseases, some of which exhibit similar signs and symptoms. Some examples of autoimmune diseases include psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s disease, and type 1 diabetes. Most of these diseases do not go away but symptoms can be treated through immunosuppression, a medication that lowers the immune response.
Melatonin is not advisable for people with autoimmune diseases since this hormone can further stimulate immune functions. In short, it can worsen the condition. However, in some studies, it has been proved that certain types of autoimmune diseases can be alleviated with this hormone, as melatonin can curb production of cytokine and reduce inflammation.
Melatonin supplements are widely available in the market. In the United States, they can be purchased as over-the-counter drugs. They can also be bought online. People with no autoimmune diseases, immune system cancers, or problems with immune functions can take in melatonin supplements to regulate sleeping patterns. The safe dosage for sleep induction is 1 to 3 mg per day. However, for those with conditions involving the immune system, melatonin supplements should not be used unless the doctor uses it for therapy under close supervision.
Melatonin has various benefits for the body including regulation of good quality sleep and enhancement of the immune system functions. If you feel the need to take it to treat sleeping disorders or difficulties, be sure to consult a doctor first.