Optimize Melatonin and Reduce Breast Cancer Risk
Research indicates that low levels of melatonin are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. In this article, I will share with you the role that melatonin plays, as well as 10 tips to optimize melatonin production, so you can get a better night’s sleep and reduce your risk of breast cancer.
Melatonin Is A Natural Hormone
Melatonin is a natural hormone produced in the pineal gland of the brain, best known for its function with our sleep/waking cycles. Light inhibits the production of melatonin in your brain and alters your natural rhythms (called Circadian rhythms).
Way back in 1976, a research project called the Nurse’s Health Study followed 121,701 female nurses for a number of years. Among other health issues, the study found that nurses who worked night shifts had a 36% higher risk of breast cancer. Since then, other studies have found a relationship between lack of sleep, melatonin and breast cancer.
One 2008 Japanese study found that women who sleep less than 6 hours per day had an increased risk for breast cancer.
How Melatonin Reduces Breast Cancer Risk
There are proposed to be three mechanisms of action by melatonin that reduce the risk of breast cancer:
- There are cells throughout your body (even cancer cells) that have melatonin receptors and melatonin has a calming effect on several reproductive hormones, including estrogen. When melatonin circulates during the night, cell division slows. When melatonin connects with a breast cancer cell, it counteracts estrogen’s tendency to stimulate cell growth.
- Melatonin boosts your production of interleukin-2 (an immune-stimulating substance), which helps identify and attack the mutated cells that lead to cancer.
- Melatonin reduces aromatase activity (aromatase is the enzyme involved with the synthesis of estrogen from precursor hormones).
In addition, melatonin has quite a variety of other useful actions in the body. It is a potent antioxidant, it helps activate the immune system. What it does for cancer is even more impressive. It induces apoptosis (the process of programmed cell death, lacking in cancer cells), it inhibits the ability of cancer cells to metastasize (spread), it disrupts angiogenesis (the ability of a tumor to create new blood vessels and thus a way to feed itself), it stimulates cell differentiation (also a bad thing for cancer cells), it can even boost the effectiveness of chemotherapy, as well as decreasing its toxic side effects.
Pretty amazing little hormone, really. So it sounds – initially – like it would be a good supplement to take, doesn’t it? It’s not that easy, however. There are some other things about melatonin that you need to know.
For an excellent presentation about melatonin, here is a 12-minute talk given by Dr Russel J Reiter at the University of Texas titled Melatonin’s Role In Cancer Prevention:
The Problem With Melatonin Supplementation
Frequent melatonin use, especially in the typical dosage of 3-6 mg, can trigger a somewhat vicious cycle in your brain. It is, after all, a hormone, not a vitamin, herb or mineral. If you supplement with melatonin regularly to get to sleep or for breast cancer risk reduction purposes, your body will produce even less, creating an even greater need for the hormone. And melatonin supplementation can come with side effects such as next-day grogginess, headaches, dizziness, irritability, vivid dreams and nightmares.
Also, according to research conducted at MIT, the correct dosage of melatonin for it to be effective is 0.3 – 1.0 mg. Many commercially available forms of melatonin are 3-10 times the amount your body would need.
Another complicating factor is how the supplement is prepared. According to WebMD.com, you should only take the synthetic form of melatonin because the natural form comes from ground-up cow pineal glands and it may spread disease (who needs Mad Cow?).
Melatonin supplementation is helpful when you are suffering jet lag from moving swiftly through time zones – for short periods – and it’s useful for short periods of insomnia. Other than that, you are much better off optimizing your own body’s production of melatonin.
Here are the 10 best ways to do that.
10 Tips to Optimize Your Own Melatonin Production
- Darken Your Bedroom – Make sure your sleeping area or bedroom is totally dark, because even the slightest bit of light in your bedroom can disrupt your pineal gland’s production of melatonin. Even that glow from your alarm clock can interfere with your sleep. I use one of those battery operated alarms that you have to push to illuminate. You might want to invest in blackout shades for the windows, or just wear a comfortable eye mask.
- Reduce EMFs in Your Bedroom – Refer to my article EMF Dangers and 7 Tips To Help You Avoid Exposure and reduce the EMFs in your bedroom. At first glance, the list of suggestions might be overwhelming, but don’t tackle them all on one day. Start with the easy ones and then work your way through the list a little at a time.
- Avoid Using Computer, Smart Phone and Television an Hour Before Bed – Between 9-10 pm is when your brain normally starts secreting melatonin so for optimal melatonin release, you need to avoid using your computer, smart phone or television at least an hour or so before going to bed. It’s a bad habit we’ve gotten into and these devices emit blue light, which tricks your brain into thinking that it is still daytime. The blue light interferes with your brain’s ability to produce melatonin.
- Get Sunlight in the Morning – Help your system to reset itself by getting 10-15 minutes of sunlight (if possible) first thing in the morning. This sends a strong message to your internal clock that day has arrived, and that makes it less likely to be confused by weaker lights during the night.
- Get a Dose of Daily Sunlight – Whenever possible, try to get exposure to sunlight regularly each day. It’s interesting how the pineal gland works – melatonin production is affected by the contrast of bright sunlight and complete darkness – so if you are in darkness all day long (think of coal miners), your pineal gland can’t distinguish the difference and will not optimize production of melatonin.
- Shower or Bathe Before Bed – Taking a hot bath or shower about 1-1/2 to 2 hrs before bed helps to increase your core body temperature, and when you get out it drops quickly. This helps to signal that your body is ready for sleep.
- Use a Salt Lamp in Bedroom – If you need a source of light in the night (for instance for getting to the bathroom without tripping over the snoring animals) use a salt lamp. Dr Reiter’s video discusses why these work best, but to explain briefly, light of this color and bandwidth (similar to a campfire) does not shut down production of melatonin in the same way that white/blue light does.
- Keep Bedroom Temperature Low – between 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit or 16- 20 degrees Celsius is best.
- Establish a Bedtime Routine – The nervous system is much calmed by meditation, deep breathing, using essential oils (lavender is very calming) or receiving a massage from your partner. Find a routine that makes you feel relaxed, then repeat it each night because the body loves and responds to a calming routine.
- Eat a High Protein Snack Several Hours Before Bed. The L-tryptophan derived from the protein helps your brain produce melatonin and serotonin.
Sleep Duration and the Risk of Breast Cancer: the Ohsaki Cohort Study
Melatonin Modulates Aromatase Activity and Expression in Endothelial Cells – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23450505
Basic Mechanisms Involved in the Anti-Cancer Effects of Melatonin –
Melatonin Overview – http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/tc/melatonin-overview#1
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