Melatonin And The Pineal Gland


Set deep in our brains is a tiny gland called the pineal gland. This tiny
gland is in charge of the endocrine system, the glandular system that controls
most of our bodily functions. The pineal runs our Œbody clocks\', and it
produces melatonin; the hormone that may prove to be the biggest medical
discovery since penicilin, and the key to controlling the aging process. The
pineal gland controls such functions as our sleeping cycle and the change of
body temperature that we undergo with the changing seasons. It tells animals
when to migrate north and south, and when to grow or shed heavy coats. By
slowing down and speeding up their metabolisms, it tells them when to fatten up
for hibernation, and when to wake up from hibernation in the spring.
Melatonin is the hormone that controls not only when we feel sleepy, but
the rate at which we age, when we go through puberty, and how well our immune
systems fend off diseases. Being set in the middle of our brains, the pineal
gland has no direct access to sunlight. Our eyes send it a message of how much
sunlight they see, and when it\'s dark. The sunlight prohibits the gland from
producing melatonin, so at night, when there\'s no sun, the sleep-inducing
hormone is released into our bodies. Because of the pineal gland and melatonin,
humans have known to sleep at night and wake during the day since long before
the age of alarm clocks.
Humans don\'t produce melatotin right from birth; it is transfered in utero
to babies through the placenta. For their first few days of life, babies still
have to receive it from breast milk. Our levels of melatonin peak during
childhood, then decrease at the beginning of puberty, so that other hormones can
take control of our bodies. As we get older, the amount of melatonin we produce
continues to decrease until at age 60, we produce about half as much as we did
at age 20. With the rapid decrease from about age 50 on, the effects of old age
quickly become more visible and physically evident. With what scientists have
recently discovered, we may very soon be able to harness melatonin to slow down
aging, fend off disease, and keep us feeling generally healthy and energetic;
not to mention the things melatonin can do for us right now like curing insomnia
and regulating sleeping patterns, eliminating the effects of jet-lag, and
relieving every day stress.

Melatonin is known as the "regulator of regulators", because it sends out
the messages that control the amounts of all the different hormones in our
bodies. It is a balance among our different hormones that keeps us healthy, and
as we age, our different hormone levels can become unbalanced, which results in
aging.
Everything our bodies do requires energy, from running a mile to sitting
still and just breathing. Every cell in our bodies requires at least some
energy to function. Within all of our cells are microscopic structures called
mitochondria. Mitochondria are considered the powerhouses of the cells, because
they convert energy into ATP; the substance which fuels most every cell in our
body. In order to create ATP, we need to take in and Œburn\' oxygen. As we age,
our mitochondria age, and as our mitochondria age, their production of ATP slows,
which results in the buildup of excess oxygen. This buildup results in the
oxidization, (or rusting) of the cells and their different components. This is
why when we\'re older, we don\'t have as much energy as when we\'re young. Here\'s
where melatonin steps in. Melatonin metabolizes the thyroid hormone (which
supplies energy to the mitochondria, among other cell organelles) so that it
carries more energy. When the mitochondria receive more power from the thyroid
hormone, they can produce more ATP, giving more energy to every cell in our
bodies, and they use up all of the oxygen that we take in, so that our cells
don\'t begin to oxidize.
There are mitochondria in the cells of the pineal gland, which give it the
power to produce and secrete melatonin. Pineal function declines as its cells\'
mitochondria provide it with less ATP, and instead start to produce calcium
salt, which calcifies the gland. Calcification is the hardening of the gland
(with calcium deposits) which hinders its performance. Once the pineal gland
begins to function less perfectly, the production of energy for the entire body
is thrown off. Therefore, with age comes less energy, which leads to less
melatonin, which leads to less energy and more leftover oxygen,