A recent study conducted at McGill University confirms that melatonin increases bone density and strengthens bone in older women. This is great news for Savers since there are several natural ways to increase melatonin levels without taking a supplement.
Today we’ll examine this study to understand how melatonin improves bone health, and we’ll also look at melatonin’s other valuable qualities. Then we’ll delve into ways to maintain desirable melatonin levels by the inclusion of certain foods and avoidance of specific substances.
So let’s begin with the study on…
Melatonin And Bone Density
Researchers at McGill University’s School of Dentistry, led by professor Faleh Tamimi, have found that bones of older rats increased in density, strength, and flexibility when given melatonin supplements.1
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland, a pea-sized gland located right above the very middle of the brain. The pineal gland is inactive during the day, but when the sun sets, the darkness of night activates a special part of the hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which in turn signals other parts of the brain to begin the biochemical processes that prepare our bodies for sleep. Among those preparations is the activation of the pineal gland’s melatonin production.
As the melatonin levels in the bloodstream rise, we begin to feel less alert, facilitating sleep, and those levels remain elevated for about 12 hours. During the day, melatonin levels are low. This sleep-wake cycle, also called the circadian rhythm, plays an important role in health.
McGill’s experiment was conducted on twenty 22-month-old laboratory rats, divided into two randomly assigned groups. Physiologically, a 22-month-old rat is equivalent to a 60-year-old human. One group was treated for 10 weeks with melatonin, and the other group served as a control group without receiving any treatment.
At the end of the 10 weeks (which in the lifespan of a rat equates to about six human years), the rat femurs were tested by micro-computed tomography, histomorphometry, and a three-point-bending test.
Here are the results, as published in the study:
“Rats treated with melatonin had higher bone volume, bone trabecular number, trabecular thickness, and cortical thickness in comparison to the control group. Histomorphometric analyses confirmed the increase of bone volume in melatonin-treated rats. In agreement with these findings, melatonin-treated rats showed higher bone stiffness, flexural modulus, and ultimate load compared to controls.
These compelling results are the first evidence indicating that dietary melatonin supplementation is able to exert beneficial effects against age-related bone loss in old rats, improving the microstructure and biomechanical properties of aged bones.”1
While this study establishes the positive impact of melatonin on bone health, it doesn’t delve into the mechanics by which this occurs. Fortunately, our understanding of the bone remodeling process provides the information we need to uncover the reason for these results.
Melatonin, Sleep & Bone Remodeling
Sleep is an important part of the remodeling cycle of bone. In fact, studies have established a clear relationship between lack of sleep and osteoporosis. In a nutshell, lack of sleep disrupts the crucial bone remodeling process, stopping new bone formation without altering the pace of bone resorption.
Research performed on rats found that when the study subjects lacked sleep, they stopped producing new bone, but bone resorption was not affected. Their bones decreased in density and tensile strength, simply because they weren’t getting enough sleep.2
Since melatonin helps to regulate the circadian rhythm and to sleep more soundly and regularly, it facilitates building fracture-resistant bones.
But that’s not the only bone health benefit of melatonin…
Melatonin Increases Glutathione Levels
Glutathione, also known as the Master Antioxidant, offers measurable bone health benefits by turning destructive free radicals into harmless molecules. It does this by offering a spare electron to these deficient molecules that would otherwise cause harm through the theft of an electron.
Additionally, glutathione is involved in a great number of biochemical processes in the body, including a key role in the liver in detoxification reactions.3 As Savers know, the liver plays a crucial role in the elimination of toxins, which is critical for bone health.
Examining estrogen-deficient mice, researchers found that glutathione increased bone density despite the lack of estrogen. In essence, optimal glutathione levels help to bolster bone density.4
Fortunately, glutathione is an endogenous antioxidant, meaning that it is produced inside the body, so a balanced diet supports glutathione production. You can read more about three essential nutrients for glutathione production– beta-carotene, riboflavin, and magnesium– in this article.
Melatonin has been shown to increase glutathione levels, and a great many studies have linked melatonin to reductions in oxidative damage and toxicity.5
Either one of these bone benefits, sleep regulation or glutathione increase, would make melatonin an essential component of bone health; together they render this hormone an unsung hero of bone-building.
Beware Of Melatonin-Depleting Prescription Medications
Certain very popular prescription drugs have been shown to reduce melatonin levels. One study on the pineal glands of mice given psychotropic medications established a dose-dependent decrease of melatonin levels following the administration of diazepam (Valium), hydroxyzine (Atarax, Vistaril), chlorpromazine (Thorazine, Largactil) or haloperidol (Haldol).6
The antidepressants Prozac or Celexa, benzodiazepines including Ativan or Xanax, and antipsychotics such as Abilify or Seroquel, also inhibit melatonin synthesis.
Melatonin In Foods
You can increase melatonin levels by consuming melatonin-rich foods. Should you wish to take a supplement, the Save Institute recommends the lowest possible dose.
Like so many biological imbalances, a melatonin deficiency can be addressed without taking drugs or supplements. Just look at this diverse (and delicious) list of melatonin-rich foods:
- Tart (sour) cherries*
- Mustard seed
- Ginger root
- Rolled oats*
- Fresh mint
- Black tea
- Brussels sprouts*
- Green tea
- Sunflower seeds*
The remarkable overlap between melatonin-rich foods and Foundation Foods provides a two-for-one bone-building bonus every time you incorporate them into your meals. The complete list of Foundation Foods is longer than the one above, and the culinary possibilities they provide are endless.
You can learn more about those foods in the Save Institute’s cookbook and meal planner Bone Appétit. It contains more than 200 recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; spanning smoothies to salads, and main courses to desserts.
Eat Your Way to Stronger Bones
Discover over 200 mouth-watering bone healthy recipes for breakfast, smoothies, appetizers, soups, salads, vegetarian dishes, fish, and plenty of main courses and even desserts!
Isn’t it remarkable that eating better can help you sleep better? As the scientific studies we covered today show, it takes both to build strong and healthy bones.
Till next time,
1 Tresguerres Isabel F., Tamimi Faleh, Eimar Hazem, Barralet Jake E., Prieto Santiago, Torres Jesús, Calvo-Guirado José Luis, and Tresguerres Jesús A.F. “Melatonin Dietary Supplement as an Anti-Aging Therapy for Age-Related Bone Loss.” Rejuvenation Research. August 2014, 17(4): 341-346. Web: https://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/rej.2013.1542
2 C. A. Everson, A. E. Folley, J. M. Toth. “Chronically inadequate sleep results in abnormal bone formation and abnormal bone marrow in rats.” Experimental Biology and Medicine, 2012; 237 (9): 1101
3 Kaplowitz, N. “The importance and regulation of hepatic glutathione.” Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. Nov-Dec. 1981. 54(6): 497-502. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2596047/
4 Lean, JM et al. “A crucial role for thiol antioxidants in estrogen-deficiency bone loss.” J. Clin. Invest. 112:915-923. 200
5 Urata Y et. al.. “Melatonin induces gamma-glutamylcysteine synthetase mediated by activator protein-1 in human vascular endothelial cells.” Free Radic Biol Med. 1999 Oct;27(7-8):838-47.
6 Wakabayashi H1, Shimada K, Aizawa Y, Satoh T. “Effect of psychotropic drugs on the contents of melatonin, serotonin and N-acetylserotonin in rat pineal gland.” Jpn J Pharmacol. 1989 Feb;49(2):225-34. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2733260