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Longevity Briefs: Can Melatonin Protect Your Brain Against Ageing?

Posted on 3 September 2021

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Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

Why is this research important: Melatonin is a hormone best known for its role in promoting sleep, but also has potent anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Poor sleep, inflammation and oxidative stress are all associated with the ageing of the central nervous system. It has therefore been suggested that enhancing melatonin levels might be effective in slowing neurological ageing.

Cells | Free Full-Text | Melatonin in Medicinal and Food Plants:  Occurrence, Bioavailability, and Health Potential for Humans | HTML
Main functions of melatonin in humans.

What did the researchers do: In this paper, researchers reviewed the current evidence surrounding melatonin, its therapeutic impact in the ageing central nervous system, and the interplay between melatonin an microRNAs: RNA strands that regulate genes by interfering with their expression (if you want to know more about microRNAs, here is a guide to RNA and its subtypes).

Key takeaway(s) from this research: The authors argue that long-term melatonin administration has potential as an anti-ageing measure, particularly against sleep disorders and ischemic events (loss of blood flow to an area of the brain), as well as age-related neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. They suggest that melatonin exerts these effects through three main mechanisms:

  • Through its anti-oxidant properties, which lead to reduced cell death and reduced damage to the mitochondria (thought to play an important role in neurodegeneration – this article is an in-depth guide to the role of the mitochondria in ageing)
  • By promoting the destruction of damaged mitochondria (mitophagy)
  • By improving sleep quality, which may or may not have a causal effect on neurodegeneration

The authors also note that microRNAs may play an important role in melatonin’s therapeutic effects in neurodegenerative disease. They call for larger clinical trials studying the effects of melatonin as well as the exploration of new delivery methods that might overcome melatonin’s low bioavailability – the proportion of the consumed drug that reaches the circulatory system. The bioavailability of oral melatonin is about 15%. For comparison, the bioavailability of oral paracetamol is around 80%.

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