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Optimize Melatonin and Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. Melatonin boosts your production of interleukin-2 (an immune-stimulating substance), which helps identify and attack the mutated cells that lead to cancer.
  3. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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 bedIt’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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Keep Bedroom Temperature Low – between 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit or 16- 20 degrees Celsius is best.
  9. 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.
  10. 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

If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, sign up for my free e-books and newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach).  

EMF Dangers and 7 Tips To Help You Avoid Exposure


EMF Dangers

Did you know that sleeping with an electric blanket might actually increase your chances of breast cancer?  There are hidden dangers in our electrical appliances most of us don’t suspect.

Today I wanted to share with you the hidden dangers of EMFs and then give you some tips on how to reduce your exposure.

What Is EMF?

Electric and magnetic fields (EMF) are areas of energy that surround any electrical device.  EMFs are produced by electrical appliances, power lines and electrical wiring.

Electric fields are easily shielded or weakened by walls and other objects, however, magnetic fields are not.  Since magnetic fields are more likely to penetrate the body, they are the component of EMFs that are usually studied in relation to cancer.

How Are EMFs Related to Breast Cancer?

It begins with the hormone known as melatonin, which is secreted by the pineal gland.

Melatonin is known to play a major role in cancer prevention and longevity. One of its primary functions is to regulate circadian rhythms in the body, which govern our waking and sleep cycles. Melatonin is also a powerful free radical scavenger, facilitating proper DNA synthesis and also cell division.

A very interesting function of melatonin, however, is how it interacts with breast cancer cells.  Studies have shown that a low level of melatonin in the body stimulates the growth of certain breast cancer cells.  When melatonin is added to these cells, their growth is inhibited.  Women with breast cancer have as little as 1/10 the amount of melatonin in their bodies, compared to healthy women.

The Studies Reveal Mixed Findings

The National Cancer Institute website advises that the majority of studies have shown no relationship between breast cancer in women and magnetic fields from electrical appliances.

Having said that, they do mention a Norwegian study that found a risk for exposure to magnetic fields in the home (Kliukiene J, Tynes T, Andersen A. Residential and occupational exposures to 50-Hz magnetic fields and breast cancer in women: A population-based study. American Journal of Epidemiology 2004; 159(9): 852–861).

The NCI also mentioned a study in African-American women which found that use of electric bedding devices may increase breast cancer risk (Zhu K, Hunter S, Payne-Wilks K, et al. Use of electric bedding devices and risk of breast cancer in African-American women. American Journal of Epidemiology 2003; 158: 798–806).

A Precautionary Stance is Advisable

Can we afford to take the risk?  As a precautionary measure I moved all electrical gear out of our bedroom after my breast cancer diagnosis — my beloved electric blanket (so nice in the winter, darn it!), the old television (no more Jay Leno late in the evening), even the electric clock on my bedside table.  Because although the NCI takes a blase view of EMFs, most natural therapists with whom I consulted did not.

At the very least, you should be aware that studies on the link between EMFs and breast cancer are ongoing, and take a precautionary stance.

There is an exhaustive discussion of the matter on a great website called canceractive.com.  Click here to read their article “EMFs, Lack Of Sleep, Melatonin Depletion and Breast Cancer“.

If you are sensitive to EMFs, you might experience symptoms like fatigue, stress and sleep disturbances, skin rashes, muscle aches and pains, burning eyes, brain fog, depression, even infertility.

7 Tips on Reducing the Effect of EMFs

  1. Go to Radio Shack and buy a $20.00 multimeter, then watch this video on how to use it to test for EMFs in your environment.
  2. Grounding pads (such as described in the video in #1, above) are available at amazon.com.
  3. Remove all non-essential electric appliances from the bedroom, especially computers with WiFi.  If you can’t remove them, unplug them before you go to bed.
  4. Don’t recharge your cell phone in the bedroom.
  5. Look out your bedroom window. If there is a clear and unobstructed view of a cell phone tower facing your way, you would be well advised to look into shielding solutions.
  6. Don’t use your laptop computer on your lap.  See this great article from Dr Mercola on why not.
  7. Take 3 mg of melatonin thirty minutes before going to bed.

I hope this helps!

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If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, please sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com).  When you’re in a desperate situation, you need an ally.  You can depend on me to help you through this.