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Melatonin—A Powerful Antioxidant for Lung Health

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Highlights
  • Melatonin is a hormone, antioxidant, and vital signaling molecule that influences numerous reactions in the body
  • The lungs utilize melatonin to counteract stresses brought on by air pollutants and infections
  • Research suggests that melatonin may help promote the lungs’ energy capacity

Many of us are looking to maximize lung health these days—particularly those with allergies or breathing difficulties, for whom maintaining optimal lung health is especially important. As one of the five essential organs, the lungs are responsible for numerous vital functions, including gas exchange, neutralizing air pollutants, responding to infections, and rebuilding new lung cells. To perform all of these tasks, the lungs require high levels of antioxidants. Fortunately, melatonin is a powerful antioxidant molecule capable of satisfying the lungs’ antioxidant needs.1 Before we discuss melatonin’s role in lung health, let’s briefly review melatonin.

What is melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone, antioxidant, and vital signaling molecule which serves numerous functions within the body.2 Produced by the pineal gland in the brain, melatonin is perhaps best known for its ability to regulate sleep cycles. However, melatonin is also made in other areas of the body and helps regulate a diverse set of biological functions.   

In addition to the brain, organs and cells that produce melatonin include:3

In addition to sleep, melatonin plays a role in regulating:2

  • Mood
  • Body mass 
  • Bone growth
  • Immune cells
  • Hormone levels
  • Heart and arteries
  • Circadian rhythm
  • Neurological function
  • Mitochondrial function

As you can see, melatonin regulates a multitude of cells, organs, and bodily functions. Now we’ll explore melatonin’s role in lung health. 

Melatonin’s role in lung health  

Melatonin may help increase energy production in the lungs by supporting the mitochondria (a specialized component found in most cells that helps supply energy).4,5 In a state of good health, it’s easy for the mitochondria to meet the energy demands of the lungs. However, when infections, allergens, or toxins challenge the lungs, the mitochondria that reside within them may be compromised.6,7 In order to defend against these threats, the lungs and mitochondria within the lungs must coordinate antioxidant defenses. Melatonin is one of the most powerful antioxidants that can help defend against a variety of stressors. As an antioxidant, melatonin is 10X more powerful than vitamin E, has 13X the antioxidant capacity of vitamin C, and is 70X more effective than vitamin C and E at suppressing DNA damage.8,9

Given its value as an antioxidant molecule, it’s little wonder why mother nature designed most cells to contain melatonin transporters and receptors (used to shuttle melatonin into the cell, and for melatonin-signaling). Additionally, new research suggests that even mitochondria can produce melatonin! 8 This also makes sense, given that the lungs and their mitochondria exist in a highly oxygenated environment, which makes them inherently vulnerable to oxidative stress, and in need of antioxidant support. Fortunately, preliminary data show that melatonin may help diminish oxidative stress in the lungs.9,10

Can increasing melatonin levels help promote lung health?

Many experimental studies show that increasing melatonin levels may help support lung health.4,10 For instance, in a recent study, researchers administered a lung-compromising agent to groups of mice (with or without melatonin) for three weeks to determine if melatonin would help mitigate lung damage.4 Upon trial completion, the researchers confirmed that melatonin did promote mitochondrial function, suppressed oxidative stress, and restored lung tissues. This research suggests that when oxidative stress compromises the lungs, it is possible to revitalize them with adequate amounts of melatonin.4

Melatonin may also help maintain lung health during times of infection. Lung infection triggers the immune system to increase the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which help fight infection. However, in some cases, the body produces these cytokines in excessive amounts. Hyperproduction of cytokines is part of an overactivated immune response that may negatively impact lung health.11,12 Based on a recent meta-analysis of 22 human studies, melatonin supplementation was shown to be effective at suppressing the levels of certain pro-inflammatory cytokines.13 Considering that melatonin has cytokine-attenuating properties, and that elevated levels of cytokines are associated with respiratory problems, it seems promising that increasing melatonin levels may support lung vitality.

Conclusion

Infections, allergens, and toxins all have the potential to compromise the lungs, and the mitochondria that reside in them. Reductions in mitochondrial function may worsen lung irritation and impede lung repair processes. Fortunately, emerging evidence suggests that increasing melatonin status may help support lung mitochondria and help maximize lung health. If you’re considering taking melatonin to support lung health, we recommend talking to your doctor first to determine if melatonin is right for you.    

Adin Smith, MS is a Science Researcher and Writer for Nordic Naturals. He holds a Masters Degree in Nutrition, and believes that many health conditions are the result of suboptimal nutrient status. For this reason, Adin is committed to informing others about the latest research in nutrition, lifestyle modification, and dietary supplements.

Circadian rhythm: Physical, mental, and behavioral changes that occur in a 24-hour cycle.

Gas exchange: Delivering oxygen to the bloodstream while removing carbon dioxide.

Immune cells: Cells that carry out various immune-related activities (e.g., T-cells, macrophages, lymphocytes).

Melatonin: A hormone, antioxidant, and important signaling molecule that influences numerous reactions in the body.

Oxidative stress: An imbalance in the production of free radicals (too much) and antioxidants (not enough).

Platelets: Tiny blood cells that help form blood clots to help stop bleeding.

Pro-inflammatory cytokines: Certain proteins (e.g. IL-1, IL-6, TNF-α) that increase or decrease in response to inflammation, trauma, stress, and infection.

1. Reiter RJ, et al. Molecules. 2018. 23(2): p. 509.
2. Pandi-Perumal SR, et al. FEBS J. 2006. 273(13): p. 2813-38.
3. Tordjman S, et al. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2017. 15(3): p. 434–443.
4. Zhang L, et al. Exp Mol Med. 2019. 51(7): p. 73.
5. Tan DX, et al. Int J Mol Sci. 2016. 17(12): p. 2124.
6. Khan M, et al. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2015.
7. Gibbs JL, et al. Int J Mol Sci. 2019. 20(22): p. 5598.
8. Reiter RJ, et al. J Pineal Res. 2016. 61(3): p. 253-78.
9. Qi W, et al. J Pineal Res. 2000. 29(1): p. 54-61.
10. Habtemariam S, et al. 2017.17(4): p. 467-488.
11. Liu B, et al. J Autoimmun. 2020.
12. Tisoncik JR, et al. Microbiol Mol Biol Rev. 2012. 76(1): p. 16–32.
13. Zarezadeh M, et al. Eur J Nutr. 2019.