During times of elevated stress and uncertainty, many of us are often plagued with poor sleep patterns. Good sleep is often recommended by many leading health authorities as a necessity for good health and better immunity.
Many people often approach me for natural strategies to help them sleep better. Engaging in relaxation promoting habits such as eating balanced meals, reading an enjoyable book, listening to relaxing music, limiting caffeine beverages in the evening, and drinking herbal teas such as chamomile tea - can go a long way in promoting better sleep for most of us.
For many people that engage in shift work, the sleep cycle is often disturbed due to disruptions in the circadian rhythm. Fortunately, melatonin, a bioactive molecule secreted from the pineal gland that influences many body hormones, is helpful for regulating the circadian rhythm of our bodies. In so doing, taking supplemental doses of melatonin has helped many people to sleep better.
Essentially at night time the pineal gland releases melatonin at highest concentrations which triggers the natural sleep response. There is a fair amount of good evidence supporting its therapeutic use. For this reason melatonin is commonly used by practitioners for sleep disturbances related to general insomnia, shift work, aging and jet lag.
Interestingly, many researchers are also finding that the benefits of this bio-active molecule may go well beyond a restful sleep. Emerging research is showing potential benefits for supporting immune functions while reducing risks for severe complications associated with viral infections.
With many viral infections the risk for severe complications is largely associated with an over-exaggerated immune response, commonly known as a cytokine storm. Simply, the body's ability to regulate the viral induced immune response leads to potential organ injury including that of the lung tissue. This may predispose to acute lung injury, increasing risk for morbidity and or mortality.
Preliminary studies are showing that melatonin may play a role in helping to regulate immune response in favor of better recovery when infected with a virus. It has been suggested to possibly limit the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
This bioactive molecule has indirect antiviral activities, anti-inflammatory effects, immune supportive properties, and antioxidant activities. Some of the early research has shown benefit for protecting against ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome) induced by various virus strains, bacteria, and even radiation.
Scientists suggest that melatonin also enhances the activities of superoxide dismutase, acts as a direct free radical scavenger, and reduces nitric oxide synthetase. In other words, it quenches free radical damage to organs such as the lung and prevents acute lung injury. This is another way in which it may be helping.
These early studies have fueled the interest of researchers to explore melatonin as a potential therapy for novel viral strains. Researchers propose that since this natural supplement has been found to benefit other respiratory distress models, it may work equally effective for severe viral infections.
As a natural health practitioner and researcher I am very intrigued by these preliminary findings. I am looking forward to more well designed studies to evaluate its therapeutic potentials for preventing and or treating viral infections. Melatonin is another testimony of the healing potentials of natural medicines.
Perhaps in the future, this sleep promoting remedy will show other benefits to human health. Indeed it may be a strong contender as a complimentary therapy for viral infections. However, large scale clinical trials are still warranted before definite conclusions can be made.
As is the case with any natural health product, it is important to always consult with your nutritionally oriented health practitioner, registered dietitian, doctor, or pharmacist before trying a natural remedy including melatonin. Your health care professional will provide you with the best information to ensure that there are no drug/herb/nutrient interactions, no contra-indications, and appropriate dosing for your medical history.