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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Melatonin may may act as an antioxidant in the brain - So I take it

A flock of sheep that leisurely pass by
One after one; the sound of rain, and bees
Murmuring; the fall of rivers, winds and seas,
Smooth fields, white sheets of water, and pure sky -
I've thought of all by turns, and still I lie
                ~William Wordsworth, "To Sleep"

One of the dietary supplements I have been taking for several months is Melatonin. Melatonin is available from just about any source that carries supplements. It is a very inexpensive supplement, and has a long track record for safety. I do not seem to have any nasty side-effects though an occasional very vivid dream may occur after taking it. Nothing out of the ordinary, but more vivid is the best way I can describe those dreams I associate with taking melatonin.

I do not take Melatonin to help me sleep. Taking Melatonin does not seem to have any affect on my quantity, or quality, of sleep. I typically sleep for a few hours, and then wake up. I frequently get up in the middle of the night, and watch TV or read for a couple hours before going back to sleep. I get about 8 hours of sleep a night - just not all at once. I generally do not feel tired during the day though sometimes I take a short afternoon nap or rest.

So? If I do not take Melatonin to help me sleep, why am I taking it? I take Melatonin because it is a strong antioxidant, and is particularly active in the brain. Melatonin has been shown to provide some protection from cell death due to collections of Tau proteins, and specifically Amyloid Plaques. Sounds pretty good to me! Did I mention the part about it being very inexpensive, and safe? Once again there is little downside to this one, and a huge possible benefit if it can help to slow the progression on my bvFTD. That is the purpose in just about everything I take - to try and slow the progression of the disease. If something helps with my symptoms, that is great, but it is a bonus rather than the true purpose. One of those extra bonus features is that Melatonin may also provide a huge boost to the immune system.

The following information is collected from many places, but I think it gives a pretty clear reason for me to give it a try - and every once in a while I do get a really great night's sleep out of it ...but maybe that is just a coincidence. I have been taking it nightly for several months without any bad effects. I take between 600-900 mcg per night right before going to sleep in the form of 2-3, 300 mcg pills. If you decide to take it please follow the directions on the package. Too much is probably worse than too little.

What is Melatonin anyway? Melatonin is a natural hormone in the body that helps regulate our circadian rhythm. Melatonin helps the brain to sleep at night, and be awake during the day.

People take melatonin supplements to fight insomnia and circadian rhythm sleep disorders. Prolonged release melatonin has shown good results in treating insomnia in adults over 55. So ot said, but the few people that I talked to have had mixed results, or said it was no help at all in treating their insomnia. Of course I have no idea if they took it correctly, or in the right dosages.

Dr. Crawford, the author of a study on Melatonin and Dementia, explained, “Melatonin does not currently exist as a treatment for dementia but is registered in Europe and the UK for use in older patients. It has proven remarkably safe and virtually free from side effects."

Sundowning & Melatonin - supposedly about 45% of people with dementias such as Alzheimer's or FTD suffer from "sundowning," which often causes heightened afternoon or evening agitation. Not getting enough melatonin is a suspected cause.

There is a clear connection behind this suspicion. In Alzheimer's, the two hallmarks of the disease are amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles (Tangles, for short). In a person with Alzheimer's, these tangles can be found in the part of the brain called the hypothalamus. Tangles in the hypothalamus adversely affect the body's production of melatonin. The implication is that Alzheimer's dries up melatonin production. This throws a wrench into the body's daily rhythm.

To make things worse, a vicious cycle ensues. Melatonin has been shown to prevent hyperphosphorylation of the tau protein in rats. In other words, melatonin prevents tangles.

Therefore, less melatonin means less "tangle-prevention." The result is even more Alzheimer's tangles which means even less melatonin. This cycle could well be why many studies have shown that sundowning can be effectively treated with melatonin supplements in the evening.

Amyloid Plaque & Melatonin

The first published evidence that melatonin may be useful in fighting dementias such as Alzheimer's was the demonstration that this neurohormone prevents neuronal death caused by exposure to the amyloid beta protein. Amyloid beta is a neurotoxic substance that is poisonous to brain cells.

Melatonin also inhibits the aggregation of the amyloid beta protein into neurotoxic microaggregates. These "toxic bunches" form the "plaque" characteristic of full-blown Alzheimer's. By blocking this bunching up of amyloid beta, melatonin helps fight plaque.

Melatonin is produced in the dark, while we sleep, and wanes upon daybreak: bright light signals the production cycle to shut down. It is secreted by the pineal gland, a small organ set behind and between the eyes. The pineal is called the "third eye," a reference to our evolutionary heritage-a time when the pineal may have extended the sensory capacities. The pineal gland serves as the timekeeper of the brain, helping to govern the sleep-wake cycle and, in animals, seasonal rhythms of migration, mating, and hibernation. In the human population, melatonin levels are highest in children, and decline with age.

Melatonin is made from an amino acid called tryptophan. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid-we can get it only from the foods that we ingest. The tryptophan we consume during the day is converted into serotonin, a brain chemical involved with mood. Serotonin, in turn, is converted into melatonin.

(some of this will undoubtedly be dis-proven in the near future)

Although research on melatonin has been ongoing since its discovery in 1958, it is only recently it has attracted high interest. Why? Research breakthroughs over the past decade have revealed some startling properties of this amazing substance:

    * Studies by immunologist Dr. Walter Pierpaoli of the Biancalana-Masera Foundation for the Aged in Ancona, Italy, and various colleagues have shown that melatonin treatments extended the life span of mice by as much as 25 percent. Moreover, mice that had been treated with melatonin not only lived longer, they also appeared younger, healthier, more vigorous, and sexually rejuvenated.
    * Researchers at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans have done studies suggesting that melatonin can stop or retard the growth of human breast cancer cells. Cancer specialists in Milan have added melatonin treatments to chemotherapy and immunotherapy in their treatment of cancer patients. They have found that such patients experienced tumor regression, in addition to living longer and suffering from fewer side effects than patients who received chemotherapy and immunotherapy alone.
    * Studies suggest that melatonin may be a kind of "natural" sleeping pill, inducing sleep without suppressing REM (dream) sleep and without producing side effects, such as those caused by sedatives and other artificial sleep aids.
    * Travelers have found that by using melatonin they can "reset their biological clocks" after flying across one or more time zones. Numerous studies have confirmed melatonin's efficacy in combating jet lag and restoring restful sleep patterns.
    * Melatonin may help to prevent heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol in people with high cholesterol. (Interestingly, melatonin seems to have no such effect on those with normal cholesterol.)
    * In a study conducted by the Medical University of Lodz (Poland) in April 2002, women between ages sixty-four and eighty years took melatonin at bedtime for six months, and were found to have a slight but significant increase in IGF-1 and an increased level of DHEA.
    * New research suggests that melatonin may be effective in combating, treating, or preventing AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, asthma, cataracts, diabetes, and Down's syndrome. Some scientists also believe that it may be the basis of a new estrogen-free birth control pill that combats breast cancer at the same time that it prevents conception.

Studies conducted by pioneering University of Texas melatonin researcher Dr. Russel Reiter show melatonin to be the most potent scavenger of free radicals-unstable molecules that promote cancer and heart disease by damaging DNA, cells, and tissue.

So, that is why I decided to add Melatonin to my cocktail of supplements to try and slow the progression of my disease. Does it work? I don't know, but it seems to have a lot going for it. So, at the end of the day, I take Melatonin.

Even thus last night, and two nights more I lay,
And could not win thee, Sleep, by any stealth:
So do not let me wear to-night away.
Without thee what is all the morning's wealth?
Come, blessed barrier between day and day,
Dear mother of fresh thoughts and joyous health!

                                        ~William Wordsworth, "To Sleep"

Everything here is my account of what happened to me, or my interpretation of stuff, except what I copied from somewhere else. Wikepedia is a constant source of information. Every case of FTD is different. Keep in mind as you read this that the person who wrote this has dementia. That would be ME.
Medical Disclaimer.

Comments and questions are welcome.


  1. I've been taking non-time-release Melatonin off and on for a couple of months. Sometimes it works,sometimes not. I took it with milk (another source of tryptophan) the other night and slept like a baby...a contented baby. But I do have some really fantastical dreams, usually in color. The whole concept of dreams for me is very new. I usually don't dream or have no recollection of them. Now the dreams are filled with color, are fastasmagorical in nature, and are usually happy dreams. And I remember them for a bit after I wake up. I'm going to try the time-release type next. Thanks for your comments.

  2. My father and his brother have both been diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia, my siblings and I have recently been told that we have a 50% chance of having it too. I am 35 with two young children and was wondering what changes you might suggest to diet / lifestyle to prolong our symptoms if we do infact have it? I would love to hear about diet, exercise, vitamins and herbal remadies that might help us now to stop or slow progression later. And I'm also guessing giving up alchohol might be a good place to start?

  3. Lee, It's 2016 now. 5 years after you penned and shared your story with us, thank you for that. Are you still with us? Hope so. Caren.

    1. Still here, and doing well. I wrote a post a couple months ago, and am trying to get motivated to write an update. Thanks for your concern.