Melatonin is an antioxidant chemical. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, melatonin has been part of biological life for over 3 billion years. Here he gives readers a review of melatonin writing:
In this interview, Russel Reiter, Ph.D. — a world-class expert on melatonin — discusses some of the biological activities and health benefits of this important molecule. With some 1,600 papers to his credit, as well as three honorary doctor of medicine1 degrees, he’s published more studies on melatonin than anyone else alive.
Melatonin is one of the most important antioxidant molecules and certainly the most ancient, as it has been part of biological life for over 3 billion years. It’s present in prokaryotes, which are bacteria, and even in plants. In the human body — aside from having direct antioxidant effects — it also stimulates the synthesis of glutathione and other important antioxidants like superoxide dismutase and catalase. Reiter continues:
“Melatonin has been here forever … and its functions have evolved. It has learned to work successfully with other molecules during this three-billion-year evolution. One of the molecules with which it collaborates is glutathione … But the antioxidant activity of melatonin is extremely diverse.
It in fact is a very good radical scavenger. There are other radical scavengers — vitamin C, vitamin E and so forth — but melatonin is superior to those. But beyond that, it stimulates antioxidative enzymes, especially in mitochondria. Mitochondria are small organelles in the cell that generate the bulk of the free radicals.
So, it’s very important to have a good antioxidant at the level of the mitochondria and melatonin happens to be located and is, in fact, synthesized in the mitochondria. Melatonin scavenges radicals that are generated, but it also stimulates something called sirtuin-3, which activates or deacetylates super oxide dismutase (SOD), which is a very important antioxidative enzyme.
It also removes free radicals and prevents the degeneration of the mitochondria, and why this is so important is because mitochondria are really the center of the action within a cell. In other words, there’s strong evidence that aging, frailty of aging, senescence of cells as we age, relate to molecular damage at the level of the mitochondria, and melatonin seems to be very efficient at protecting mitochondria from that damage.”
Melatonin increases glutathione through a genomic effect on the enzyme that regulates the synthesis of gamma glutamylcysteine synthase, the rate limiting enzyme in glutathione synthesis. Melatonin activates that enzyme.
Glutathione tends to be found in high concentrations in cells, although some is also found, to a lesser degree, in the extracellular space and the mitochondria. Meanwhile, 95% of the melatonin in your body is concentrated within the mitochondria inside the cells.
Its antioxidant effects are quite diverse, but include preventing free radical generation by enhancing the efficiency of the electron transport chain so fewer electrons leach onto oxygen molecules to generate super oxide antiradical.
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