By Bo Martinsen, MD
With the prevalence of sleep disturbances on the rise, melatonin is now one of the fastest growing supplements in the USA.
But the benefits of melatonin extend far beyond sleep.
Researchers today are examining the role of melatonin in cancer medicine, as well as brain and immune health. In addition, there is a growing body of research that shows a strong synergy between melatonin and my specialty, omega-3 fatty acids.
These studies indicate that melatonin and omega-3s increase the benefits of one another and may also work together to fight aging.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a ubiquitous, multi-purpose molecule. Secreted by the brain’s pineal gland in response to darkness, melatonin is most famous for its role in regulating our sleep cycle.
Melatonin, however, is also found in the intestinal tract, liver and retina, as well as in many foods we eat.
Researchers have also demonstrated that melatonin works as an anti-inflammatory agent and powerful antioxidant.
Melatonin Can Protect Against Free Radical Damage
As an antioxidant, melatonin is a natural scavenger of free radicals, or unstable molecules that damage the cells in our bodies. Because of its ability to fight free radicals, melatonin has been found to protect against oxidative stress, which is associated with a range of conditions, including heart disease, cancer, and premature aging.
Neuroscientists in particular are fascinated with melatonin’s ability to protect fatty acids from lipid peroxidation, or a process in which free radicals attack and damage the fatty acids. Because the brain is rich in fatty acids and consumes large quantities of oxygen compared to other organs, it is especially vulnerable to oxidative stress. Today, several studies report that low levels of melatonin may be associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. Furthermore, melatonin directly inhibits the secretion and deposition of the beta amyloid protein and reduces intracellular neurotangles, both biomarkers of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Melatonin’s protective antioxidant benefits could also extend to omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s, which are known for their anti-aging benefits independent of melatonin, are highly susceptible to lipid peroxidation. If an omega-3 molecule becomes damaged for instance by exposure to oxygen, it’s prevented from carrying out its functions in the cell. That’s why some scientists believe melatonin could potentially help maintain the safety and efficacy of omega-3 foods and supplements.
How Melatonin and Omega-3s Work Together
Melatonin also seems to promote the absorption of omega-3s in the body. Studies show that, when taken together, melatonin increases the levels of the omega-3 fatty acid EPA in the brain, thus improving the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. This is also significant since EPA may be helpful in reducing neuroinflammation.
Intriguingly, omega-3 fatty acids also appear to support the body’s production of melatonin. Because omega-3s make up a part of the pineal gland, some scientists believe that the pineal gland may actually be synergistically regulated by the omega-3 fatty acids.
Melatonin and Omega-3s May Fight Aging
Melatonin and omega-3 may also work together to fight aging by supporting the mitochondria. The mitochondrion functions as the cell’s powerhouse, providing the energy our cells need to function. It is also connected with cellular aging. If we can improve mitochondrial functioning and prevent damage to these important cell structures, it’s believed that we can delay the onset of age-related chronic diseases.
Importantly, research reveals that the omega-3 fatty acid DHA is critical for optimal mitochondrial function. Similarly, studies have also discovered that melatonin exhibits “a protective effect on mitochondrial function,” and can even restore mitochondrial function.
New Formulations for Optimal Health
The more we discover about melatonin and omega-3s, the clearer it becomes that these molecules belong together. Omega-3-rich foods often contain high levels of melatonin. Cod liver oil, for instance, is a good source of both, but during the regular refining process, almost all of the natural melatonin is lost.
By combining melatonin and omega-3s again, we can develop smarter formulations for optimal health. We found that when we added melatonin directly into our omega-3 oil, the results were different than taking melatonin alone or as a tablet. While more research is still needed on this partnership, these early findings are promising.
About Bo Martinsen, MD
Dr. Martinsen is an omega-3 specialist, innovator, and advocate for natural foods. As co-founder and CEO of Omega3 Innovations, he has created several medical food products that combine effective doses of omega-3s with soluble fibers and other nutrients. Before Omega3 Innovations, Dr. Martinsen practiced medicine in Norway for 20 years.
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