Melatonin and Hidden Complexity

A couple of papers to compare and contrast:

Melatonin in relation to the "strong" and "weak" versions of the free radical theory of aging:

While the data supporting a role for melatonin in forestalling aging and prolonging life span per se is not compelling, the findings related to melatonin's ability to reduce the severity of a variety of age-related diseases that have as their basis free radical damage is convincing.

Melatonin prevents age-related mitochondrial dysfunction in rat brain via cardiolipin protection

Melatonin has been shown to possess antioxidant properties and to reduce oxidant events in brain aging. .... We found [that a number of] mitochondrial parameters were significantly altered with aging, and that melatonin treatment completely prevented these age-related alterations. These effects appear to be due, at least in part, to melatonin's ability to preserve the content and structural integrity of cardiolipin molecules, which play a pivotal role in mitochondrial bioenergetics.

Which is interesting to say the least; I would have lumped melatonin in with all the other antioxidant supplements - just because a chemical happens to affect some aspects of your biochemistry doesn't mean that ingesting it is going to have any positive benefit.

I have to wonder at what complexity is hidden here: a mechanism completely prevents alterations in mitochondrial parameters, and yet doesn't do anything for life span? Compare that with antioxidant chemicals targeted directly to mitochondria, which lead to significant extensions of healthy life. Mitochondria are complex objects, and (a) the state of their membranes, (b) the working of their inner processing mechanisms, and (c) the effects they have on their cell are not linked in straightforward ways.


I took melatonin pills at night for a couple years to help me get to sleep. They work! Problem is, 5 years ago I started getting terrible joint paints - so bad I couldn't open a door, hold a can of Coke or Drive. I ended up at a rheumatologist who told me I had an autoimmune disease, and melatonin was the likely culprit. Turns out those little over-the-counter supplement pills have THOUSANDS, nay, tens of thousands, of the amount of melatonin as your body is supposed to have, and it's a hormone; it affects many systems in the body. It is not some harmless little sleep aid or health enhancer. Oh well, too late, at least for me: once you have an autoimmune disease, it never goes away, it can only be managed. Beware of anything and everything related to melatonin; I speak from experience.

Posted by: Lance at October 31st, 2008 11:31 PM

There is some question as to the exact mechanism there. It may be the case that melatonin speeds an existing progression towards autoimmunity by enhancing immune action in general. For example:

Posted by: Reason at November 1st, 2008 8:04 AM

Lance....same thing with me kind of
Developed knee pain and swelling in both knees following a blow to the right knee 6 years ago. Not only didnt go away but spread.Lotta pain in multiple joints now but no swelling and specialist won't diagnose without swelling. Was taking melatonin at the time but don't know wheather that was the proximate cause.

Posted by: dougk at February 4th, 2009 9:17 PM

Do not use Melatonin
It caused me to have terrible joint pain
I stopped and it all went away. The doctors told me I have fibromyalgia, I was very sick for a year. I stopped taking Melatonin and it all went away

Posted by: Lauren Cohen at July 20th, 2015 3:55 AM

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.