Melatonin - Your Mitochondrial Protectors

November 04, 2022

Melatonin - Your Mitochondrial Protector

You likely thought of melatonin as your sleep hormone. Indeed, it is. Its secretion clearly rises with darkness and results in your feeling more drowsy. Young children appear to have the most of it, with blood levels of 150-350 picograms or so and then it gradually declines, losing about 10% per decade. That means a normal 60 year old will have 60% less melatonin.

It turns out melatonin plays a much bigger role inside the cell than in your blood. Not just inside the cell, but inside your mitochondria. That's where the vast majority of it is made and used. The pineal gland happens to have mitochondria that are a bit different than other cells. It exports melatonin to the whole body, whereas every other cell uses its own melatonin internally. What for?

This is where it gets very interesting. Your mitochondria are your energy factories. They are making the energy molecule called ATP which is the currency of energy function in your cell. Each ATP is made and remade about 10,000 times a day - and the daily production of ATP is about your body weight. Impressive! The conversion of food in the form of glucose or fat into ATP comes down to making an electrical gradient of protons across the inner membrane of mitochondria. Separating electrons from protons is a hazardous task because of the Heisenberg principle of uncertainty of quantum mechanics. We can't tell if an electron is a particle or a wave....or just where it is. Our mitochondrial proteins tasked with the burden of making energy can't hang on to them perfectly, and some get away. Some get away. The Achilles heel of cellular energy production is the escape of a few electrons that spin out and make reactive oxygen species (ROS). Those ROS's are terribly damaging. In the best of circumstances, they get rapidly neutralized and gobbled up. That's what melatonin does.

Melatonin is now being recharacterized as your mitochondrial protector par excellence. We repair our mitochondria when we sleep, and in fact, it may be why we have to sleep. Our brains are so critical to our being multicellular organisms that every creature with a nervous system has to sleep in one fashion or another. It is doing so so that the brain can be flushed out of its accumulated toxins and regenerate itself. It is notable that our brains also have more mitochondria than any other organelle (other than the female egg).

The protection process is actually a whole portfolio of integrated actions, all of which stem from and support soaking up those escaped electrons and ROSs. It sounds arcane but key to the cell coping with too much energy is the ability to inhibit the mitochondrial permeability transition pore (MPTP) thus supporting mitochondrial membrane potential (Δψ) . This gets really nerdy but inhibiting that pore helps keep your membrane potential intact so that the mitochondria keeps making energy properly. But to let off the extra steam melatonin also turns on uncoupling protein, thereby making heat instead of ATP. All to keep the flow of energy moving smoothly and efficiently. It's as though your mitochondria is the engine on a supercharged drag racer, just screaming and roaring, and melatonin is the skilled engine mechanic tweaking and nursing that engine along to peak performance without it burning out. You want your melatonin.

www.What will Work for me? The conjecture in all the current literature on melatonin is that it plays a major role in keeping our cells safe, and it declines by that dreaded, inexorable 10% per decade. I am now 7 decades down. Hmmm. My cells can't repair or regulated their mitochondria in any fashion that they used to. It gets even more interesting when we realize that cancer, a disease of aging to a large part, is a mitochondrial disease. That's next week. For now, at least take some at bedtime. I would urge you to consider at least 10 mg at bedtime. Just about every study on night workers who have horribly disrupted melatonin shows that they have more cancer. Maybe we need much, much more. That's next week.

References: Int Jr Molecular Sci, Exp GerontolScoliosis ,

Pop Quiz

1. Melatonin comes from where?                         Answer: Trick question. What's in your blood comes from your pineal gland but the majority of it is produced and used locally inside the mitochondria, inside the cell.

2. When you take melatonin at bedtime, how do you feel?                   Answer: Sleepy.

3. What happens during sleep?                     Answer: We now know that you turn on your glymphatic drainage of your brain as it squeezes down some 15% of its volume. That rinsing process is paired with melatonin secretion. Proven connections to follow.

4. What has been proven so far about mitochondria and melatonin?                        Answer: Nerdy stuff. Mitochondrial membrane potential (Δψ) maintenance and uncoupling protein activation.

5. What happens as we age to our melatonin level?                         Answer: 10% per decade down. Think that might be a problem?