Can melatonin help during the COVID-19 crisis?
This is a question I've received from many of my clients in the past several weeks and also a hot topic in the Holistic and Functional Nutrition space right now. In the spirit of sharing as much advice as I can on how to help fight off the coronavirus, I decided to give you my two cents on the benefits of taking melatonin supplements to help you stay strong.
When it comes to staying healthy in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, we know that following social distancing practices and washing our hands properly and regularly are both critical. And, as we search for additional ways to boost our immunity during this health crisis, it is more important than ever to follow the same steps I would ordinarily recommend as vital to a healthy lifestyle: Eat well. Exercise regularly. Stay hydrated. Get ample sleep.
But the reality is, that last one might be easier said than done. The COVID-19 crisis seems to create the perfect storm for insomnia: the anxiety over our health, our jobs and the well-being of our friends and family, the unavoidable information overload, the major interruption to the structure of our daily lives, and the inevitable late-night screen sessions can all contribute to stress-related sleep disruptions.
Even worse, since we know that getting enough sleep is so important to support our immune system and its ability to fight off infection, insomnia itself ends up being yet another source of anxiety. Full disclosure: I’m suffering from a little bit of insomnia myself this week, so we’re all in this together!
This is where melatonin comes in...
What is melatonin?
Produced naturally in our bodies and released by the pineal gland at the base of the brain, melatonin is the hormone responsible for regulating our sleep-wake cycle. As day turns to night, usually around 9 pm, our bodies start to produce and release more melatonin into the bloodstream to help us wind down and prepare to sleep.
If you are finding it difficult to fall asleep, improper melatonin production could be to blame. Research suggests that supplementing your body’s natural melatonin production may help you fall asleep faster and get your sleep routine back on track.
But wait, there’s more! I’ve read some recent compelling research connected to the COVID-19 pandemic pointing to the possibility that melatonin may even play a role in supporting our immunity and lung health.
How can melatonin help?
Researchers have determined that melatonin’s health benefits may go beyond helping us get a good night’s sleep by supporting our immune response. They believe that melatonin can help control the specific type of inflammation produced by COVID-19 infection that can lead to acute lung injury and respiratory distress syndrome that develop in the most serious cases of the virus.
This, at least in part, may explain why children—with the highest natural levels of melatonin—have generally been experiencing more mild symptoms when exposed to COVID-19, and why older people—with the lowest melatonin levels—have tended to become more seriously ill. Super interesting, right?
How can you boost your melatonin levels?
Food is always a great place to start. If you are looking to increase your levels of melatonin during the COVID-19 crisis, whether to help you get some rest or in the hopes of boosting your immune system, there are several plant-based foods that can increase your body’s melatonin levels naturally. These include:
- Tart cherries
- Rolled oats
- Sunflower seeds
- My beloved flax seeds
It’s important to note, however, that these foods all offer much lower levels of melatonin than supplements. For example, you would need to eat 1,300 pistachios! - the nut with the highest levels of melatonin - to get 0.3mg of melatonin (the lowest level I’d recommend) and 13,000 to get 3mg of melatonin. Wild, right?
That’s why taking a melatonin supplement, especially during COVID-19 times, makes sense (unless you want to eat that many pistachios! To each their own...no judgment here.) The melatonin supplement I like to recommend to my clients—and which I take myself--is Herbatonin. The first natural, plant-based melatonin product in the world, Herbatonin is made from chlorella and alfalfa, so it offers other antioxidants and beneficial active ingredients as well. As I always say, quality is critical when choosing a supplement brand, so watch out for supplements that claim certain levels or quality of ingredients as levels of melatonin in many supplements vary significantly.
Finding the right dose for your body is always important, as research has shown that taking too much melatonin can actually make it more difficult for you to fall--or stay--asleep. Generally speaking, I recommend starting with a low dose of 0.3mg nightly as part of your immune support protocol if you are asymptomatic. If you have flu-like symptoms or need a good night’s sleep, you can switch to 3mg nightly for a few nights and adjust based on how quickly your body responds to it.
Stay healthy, strong and well-rested! I’ll do the same. Sweet dreams.
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