Dr. Al Danenberg ● Nutritional Periodontist
February 10, 2020
What do you know about melatonin?
When I asked several friends that question, basically they said, “It’s a supplement that helps you go to sleep.” That would have been my response before learning the numerous and diverse functions of melatonin in the body – especially the curious connection with periodontal disease. Another unusual fact is that melatonin is not only produced in the brain; it’s also independently synthesized in the gut?
Let me guide you down the path to understand some of the fascinating functions of melatonin in your body. Then, I’ll suggest some ways to improve your levels of melatonin naturally.
Melatonin is the “sleep hormone”, but it’s so much more than that.
The pineal gland produces melatonin. This gland is a small structure located near the center of the brain. Melatonin is generally known for the regulation of your sleep cycle (also called the circadian rhythm). Your pineal gland begins secreting melatonin around sundown and peaks around 2 – 4 AM. As melatonin increases in your brain and then your circulation, your body begins to prepare for sleep. You will become tired. However, if you use artificial light at night, your body will slow down its production of melatonin. Falling asleep could become a problem. That’s when many people turn to melatonin supplements to help them fall asleep.
Supplements are available in a natural form or a synthetic form. If you do take a supplement of melatonin, the long-term use could cause your pineal gland to reduce its production of melatonin or even shut down its production if you’re using a high dose for an extended period of time. A better option might be to eat foods high in tryptophan, an amino acid that is the precursor to melatonin. To help your body produce more melatonin naturally, I’ll summarize some ideas at the end of this article.
Melatonin has many other functions other than affecting sleep. It turns out that melatonin has been identified in the gut. And its synthesis in the gut is independent to the production of melatonin by the pineal gland. As a matter of fact, the gut contains at least 400 times more melatonin than the pineal gland. The creation of melatonin in the gut is not related to the sleep cycle or light exposure. It appears that melatonin production in the gut helps with all healthy gut functions.
Another function of melatonin is that of an energy hormone. When melatonin levels increase, your energy level goes down. Conversely, when melatonin levels decrease, your energy level goes up. Melatonin is also an effective antioxidant. It might function in the body as a cancer-preventing biochemical. In addition, melatonin has positive effects on the function of your brain, heart, gut, circulatory system and your immune system. That’s a lot of work coming from the simple hormone called melatonin.
Two major effects of melatonin are to protect mitochondria and to repair dysfunctional mitochondria. The mitochondria are the batteries of your cells creating the necessary energy that every cell in your body must rely on to function efficiently. Mitochondria are like the batteries in a flashlight. When the batteries start to run down in a flashlight, the light will dim. Eventually, if the batteries lose all their power, the light from the flashlight will go out. Likewise, if the mitochondria are functioning less than they should, the cellular tissue cannot function properly, and it will slow down. If the mitochondria fail to create the necessary ATP for the cell, the cell could ultimately die. However, melatonin has potential to recharge weakened mitochondria and restore its ability to continue to produce ATP efficiently for the cell.
Melatonin also works with Vitamin D to prevent diseases which are intimately and intricately affected by the status of vitamin D and melatonin in your body.
Melatonin and Periodontal Disease
There are so many biological functions for melatonin as I already described. But this hormone also is necessary of periodontal health.
A medical trial published in 2013 reported that patients with active periodontal disease had reduced levels of melatonin compared to healthy individuals. And as early gum inflammation progressed to more advanced periodontitis, the levels of melatonin in the saliva and the gum tissues decreased.
Since melatonin has been shown to have anti-inflammatory actions in general, a study was designed to evaluate melatonin’s targeted effects on periodontal disease. Participants in the study consisted of those who had active periodontal disease and diabetes. Healthy subjects were used as controls. The researchers used a topical solution of melatonin and applied it to the gum tissues of those with active periodontal disease and those with healthy gums. The results of the experiment were published in 2015 and showed that topical melatonin would help heal the gums of those patients with active periodontal disease. Specifically, gum bleeding and pocket depths decreased as well as systemic biomarkers of IL-6 and CRP decreased.
To delve a little deeper, a detailed study was published in 2016. This study investigated the effects of melatonin on the virulent bacterium Porphyromonas gingivalis (P. gingivalis) and the severe inflammation caused by this bacterium. P. gingivalis is one of the most pathological bacteria involved with periodontitis – the aggressive form of periodontal disease that destroys the jawbone surrounding the roots of the affected teeth. The investigators showed that melatonin could inhibit the growth of P. gingivalis and its surrounding biofilm. The takeaway message from this study is that melatonin could be used as adjunctive treatment for patients with active periodontal disease.
Another study published in 2014 proved that melatonin can help bone grow. This is important since active periodontitis causes bone loss in the bone surrounding the infected teeth. If melatonin will help bone grow, it might be beneficial during the treatment of periodontitis.
So, melatonin has the potential (1) to repair mitochondria that become dysfunctional in periodontal disease, (2) to inhibit the pathological growth of P. gingivalis, (3) to decrease inflammation, and (4) to potentially assist with bone repair.
It appears that your natural production of melatonin can prevent periodontal disease or help heal the body from periodontal infection. However, if your sleep cycle is disturbed because of use of light at night (especially blue light from computers and artificial lighting), working the night shift, or disease of the pineal gland, then you will produce significantly less melatonin and be more susceptible to periodontal disease and bone damage. Also, if your gut is not healthy, then the production of melatonin in the gut could be compromised.
Natural Ways to Increase Melatonin
Eat nutrient-dense anti-inflammatory foods and especially avoid processed foods which contain chemicals and other harmful substances.
- Include foods high in tryptophan (ex. chicken, eggs, cheese, fish, turkey).
- Try to sleep between 7 to 9 hours per night.
- Stop drinking caffeine or eating caffeine foods after 2PM.
- Don’t eat shortly before bed.
- Avoid exercise before bed.
- Sleep in a dark and cool room. (Electronic devices like a computer screen, a cell phone, and a TV will emit blue light, which greatly suppresses melatonin and prevents you from getting sleepy. If you must use an electronic device, use the adjustment for “night shift” to filter out the blue light.)
- Use relaxation techniques like meditation before bed.
The impact of melatonin on our body is impressive. Its relationship to a healthy mouth is one more reason to be sure your sleep cycle is healthy so that it produces melatonin efficiently. But also, the fact that the gut produces its own melatonin is another compelling reason to maintain a healthy gut through diet, efficient exercise, stress reduction, and restorative sleep.