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The Pineal Gland and Melatonin
The pineal gland was described as the “Seat of the Soul” by Renee Descartes and it is located in the center of the brain.
The main function of the pineal gland is to receive information about the state of the light-dark cycle from the environment and convey this information to produce and secrete the hormone melatonin. The rhythmic production of melatonin, secreted only during the dark period of the day, is extensively used as a marker of the phase of the internal circadian clock.
Melatonin itself is used as a therapy for certain sleep disorders related to circadian rhythm abnormalities and for the alleviation of jet lag.
Melatonin was first isolated from the bovine pineal gland in 1958. In humans, it is the main hormone synthesized and secreted by the pineal gland. It is produced from a pathway that includes both tryptophan and serotonin. Melatonin displays high lipid and water solubility, which allows it to diffuse easily through most cell membranes, including the blood-brain barrier.
Melatonin is best known for the role it plays in regulating sleep patterns. Sleep patterns are also called circadian rhythms. The pineal gland also plays a role in the regulation of female hormone levels, and it may affect fertility and the menstrual cycle.
In addition to its role in regulating the circadian system and sleep patterns, melatonin is involved in cell protection, neuroprotection, and the reproductive system, among other functions.
Pineal gland function and melatonin secretion can be impaired due to accidental and developmental conditions, such as pineal tumors, craniopharyngiomas, injuries affecting the sympathetic innervation of the pineal gland, and rare congenital disorders that alter melatonin secretion.
What is the Pineal Gland?
The pineal gland is a small, pea-shaped gland in the brain. Its function isn’t fully understood. Researchers do know that it produces and regulates some hormones, including melatonin. Melatonin is best known for the role it plays in regulating sleep patterns. Sleep patterns are also called circadian rhythms.
The pineal gland in humans is a small (100-150mg), highly vascularized, and a secretory neuroendocrine organ. It is located in the mid-line of the brain, outside the blood-brain barrier and attached to the roof of the third ventricle by a short stalk.
The main function of the pineal gland is to receive and convey information about the current light-dark cycle from the environment and, consequently produce and secrete melatonin cyclically at night (dark period).
The pineal gland or epiphysis synthesizes and secretes melatonin, a structurally simple hormone that communicates information about environmental lighting to various parts of the body. Ultimately, melatonin has the ability to entrain biological rhythms and has important effects on reproductive function of many animals. The light-transducing ability of the pineal gland has led some to call the pineal the “third eye“.
What is Melatonin?
The pineal gland is a tiny endocrine gland found in the brain. It produces and secretes the hormone melatonin, which is a hormone that helps regulate biological rhythms such as sleep and wake cycles. The secretion of melatonin is inhibited by light and triggered by darkness.
The pinealocyte cells that make up the pineal gland are known to produce and secrete the amine hormone melatonin, which is derived from serotonin. The secretion of melatonin varies according to the level of light received from the environment.
While the full function of the pineal gland is still somewhat mysterious, we do know that it secretes the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone from the pineal gland that helps regulate biological rhythms such as sleep and wake cycles. In other words, it’s melatonin that directs your internal clock – the one that allows you to wake up about the same time every morning without an alarm clock.
Melatonin is secreted in different amounts during the night and day. Melatonin secretions peak during the nighttime, and this makes you feel drowsy. While it does not necessarily induce sleep, it can promote sleep and allow a good night’s rest. In fact, we see melatonin marked as a supplement to help people who deal with insomnia. Because melatonin secretions peak during puberty and then continue to drop throughout life, it is thought that a lack of melatonin production is why so many elderly people report trouble sleeping.
What is a Circadian Rhythm?
Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle. They respond primarily to light and darkness in an organism’s environment. Sleeping at night and being awake during the day is an example of a light-related circadian rhythm.
In humans and most diurnal mammals, melatonin is secreted at night with a robust circadian rhythm and maximum plasma levels that occur around 3 to 4 AM. The daily rise of melatonin secretion correlates with a subsequent increase in sleep propensity about 2 hours before the person’s regular bedtime. The rhythmic release of melatonin is regulated by the central circadian rhythm generator—the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the anterior hypothalamus.
Melatonin appears to have a number of effects on human biology that have not been fully explained, including regulating the sleep-wake cycle and acting as a neurogenic/neuroprotective agent.
It appears that the function of melatonin is to mediate dark signals and provide night information, a “hormone of darkness,” rather than be the hormone of sleep. It has also been thought to be an “endogenous synchronizer” that stabilizes and reinforces various circadian rhythms in the body.
A circadian rhythm is a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours. It can refer to any biological process that displays an endogenous, entrainable oscillation of about 24 hours.
Your gut produces sleep hormones. Your gut microbiome regulates the production and distribution of many different hormones, including the sleep-inducing ones: dopamine, serotonin, GABA, and melatonin. An unbalanced microbiome can produce unbalanced levels of these hormones, which can negatively affect sleep.
The gut microbiome plays a very important role in your health by helping control digestion and benefiting your immune system and many other aspects of health. An imbalance of unhealthy and healthy microbes in the intestines may contribute to weight gain, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and other disorders.
“Given the strong gut-brain bidirectional communication they likely influence each other,” said Jaime Tartar, Ph.D., a professor and research director in NSU’s College of Psychology who was part of the research team. “Based on previous reports, we think that poor sleep probably exerts a strong negative effect on gut health/microbiome diversity.”
A microbiome is all the microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, protozoa and fungi) and their genetic material found in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. We all have these in our GI tract, but not all at the same levels (diversity.) As it turns out, it’s this diversity that could be the key.
Gut microbiome diversity, or lack thereof, is associated with other health issues, such as Parkinson’s disease and autoimmune diseases, as well as psychological health (anxiety and depression.) The more diverse someone’s gut microbiome is, the likelihood is they will have better overall health.
Over 80% of your immune system resides in the lining of your gut, and your microbiome is in constant contact with it. A healthy, resilient gut microbiome relies on high richness and biodiversity. When there is high richness and diversity of the microbes in your gut, your immune system is stronger and more stable.
Microbiome Richness is the total number of bacterial species in your gut microbiome. Microbiome Diversity is the amount of individual bacteria from each of the bacterial species present in your gut microbiome.
Phytochemicals contribute to the maintenance of human gastro-intestinal health, largely via modulation of the gut microbial balance with simultaneous inhibition of pathogens and stimulation of beneficial bacteria.
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