Improve Sleep Health by Understanding Gut, Brain, Melatonin Connection

Domonique D. Hargrove B.A., M.S., NCEP Certified Fitness Trainer, Founder& President of “Slight Edge Performance Program” LLC

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Role of Melatonin in The Gut

Melatonin is a hormone with endocrine, paracrine and autocrine actions. It is involved in the regulation of multiple functions, including the control of the gastrointestinal (GI) system under physiological and pathophysiological conditions.

Since the gut contains at least 400 times more melatonin than the pineal gland reviewing the functional importance of melatonin in the gut is very useful.

Melatonin exerts its physiological effects through specific membrane receptors, named melatonin-1 receptor (MT1), MT2 and MT3. These receptors can be found in the gut and their involvement in the regulation of gastrointestinal (GI) motility, inflammation and pain has been reported in numerous basis clinical studies.

Melatonin discovered in 1917, is found in humans, animals, plants and microbes. It is a lipophilic compound diffusing rapidly though biological membranes and is involved in many regulatory processes, such as biological rhythms, intestinal reflexes, protection against inflammation, metabolism and reproduction.

Melatonin is produced in the gut as well as the brain. Every individual microbiome is different, and develops as a result of genetics as well as exposure to microbial life, in our environment and in our diet. The microbiome is a highly dynamic internal ecosystem, with a constantly shifting make-up of micro-organisms.

What is a Microbiome and Why Is It Important?

A Microbiome is the microorganisms in a particular environment (including the body or a part of the body) and the combined genetic material of the microorganisms in a particular environment.

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.

The human microbiome is the collection of trillions of microbes living in and on the human body. It consists of about a thousand different bacterial species that reside in the mouth, gut and vagina, and on the skin.

Melatonin, the “darkness hormone” essential to sleep and a healthy sleep-wake cycle, also contributes to maintaining gut health. Deficiencies in melatonin have been linked to increased permeability of the gut—the so-called “leaky gut” increasingly associated with a range of diseases.

Gut health refers to the balance of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract. Looking after the health of the gut and maintaining the right balance of these microorganisms is vital for physical and mental health, immunity, and more.

These bacteria, yeasts, and viruses — of which there are around 100 Trillion— are also called the “gut microbiome” or “gut flora.”

Many microbes are beneficial for human health, and some are even essential. Others can be harmful, especially when they multiply.

The Microbiome is a cohesive group of resident micro-organisms that have a wide ranging affect on many areas of the body, including the gastrointestinal tract as well as the blood–brain barrier.

The pineal gland is the seat of the production of melatonin, Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and other substances that are involved in circadian rhythms which effect sleep patterns as well as both gut and brain wellness.

The term microbiome can mean a couple of different things. It is sometimes used to describe the collection of all microbes in a particular community. In scientific terms, the microbiome can also refer to the genes belonging to all the microbes living in a community. The microbiome is often seen as a genetic counterpart to the human genome.

The genes that make up a person’s microbiome are far more numerous than human genes themselves—there are roughly 100 times more genes in the human microbiome than in the human genome. This makes sense when you consider that there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 trillion microbes living in (and on) each of us—a combination of many different types, including bacteria, fungi, viruses and other tiny organisms.

This vast array of microbial life lives on our skin and throughout the body. The largest single collection of microbes resides in the intestine—hence the attention to “gut” health. Here, trillions of microscopic organisms live and die—and appear to exert a profound effect on human health.

The Microbiome and Sleep Health

The human microbiota/ microbiome is a complicated, dynamic ecosystem within the body. It appears to interact in some important ways with another fundamental aspect of living—sleep.

Scientists investigating the relationship between sleep and the microbiome are finding that this ecosystem may affect sleep and sleep-related physiological functions in a number of ways—shifting circadian rhythms, altering the body’s sleep-wake cycle, and affecting hormones that regulate sleep and wakefulness. Our sleep, in turn, may affect the health and diversity of the human microbiome.

This “gut-brain axis” appears likely to have a profound influence over nearly every aspect of human health and physiological function, including sleep.

A significant, fast-growing body of research illustrates the far-reaching effects of the microbiome over brain function and brain health—as well as the influence of the brain over gut health and the microbiome.

The constant communication and interplay between the gut and the brain has the potential to influence and intersect with sleep directly and indirectly.

How do I keep my microbiome healthy?

Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of nutrients for a healthy microbiota. They are high in fiber, which can’t be digested by your body. However, fiber can be digested by certain bacteria in your gut, which stimulates their growth.

Beans and legumes also contain very high amounts of fiber. Some high-fiber foods that are good for your gut bacteria include: raspberries, artichokes, green peas, broccoli, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, pinto beans, white beans and whole grains.

Bifidobacteria are considered beneficial bacteria, as they can help prevent intestinal inflammation and enhance gut health. Apples, artichokes, blueberries, almonds and pistachios have all been shown to increase Bifidobacteria in humans.

Many fruits and vegetables are high in fiber. Fiber promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, including Bifidobacteria.

Fermented foods, particularly plain, natural yogurt, can benefit the microbiota by enhancing its function and reducing the abundance of disease-causing bacteria in the intestines.

Polyphenols are plant compounds that have many health benefits, including reductions in blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol levels and oxidative stress.

Polyphenols can’t always be digested by human cells. Given that they aren’t absorbed efficiently, most make their way to the colon, where they can be digested by gut bacteria.

Good sources of polyphenols include: cocoa, dark chocolate, red wine, grape skins, green tea, almonds, onions, blueberries and broccoli.

Polyphenols act on the gut microbiota by increasing the growth of beneficial bacteria which produce compounds scientifically proven to promote our health and wellbeing. These phytochemicals have the potential to improve depression because of their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

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