September 12th, 2011
By: Dr. David Jockers
Melatonin is known as the regulator of the sleep wake cycle in the body. It is produced in the pineal gland of the brain and monitors sleep cycles while playing an important role in healing and anti-oxidant protection. New indicators are showing that it may play an even more important regulatory role in the digestive system.
The human digestive system is considered by many experts to be the ’2nd Brain,’ due to its ability to produce neurotransmitters. Additionally, the digestive system works off of similar rhythmic patterns as brain waves and has an advanced communication network that rivals that of the brain. The hormone melatonin appears to play a very important role in regulating much of these patterns in both the brain and gut.
The amount of melatonin in the digestive system is 400 fold greater than the pineal gland. Melatonin is produced in specialized cells called enteroendocrine cells of the gastrointestinal tract. This super hormone is present in all segments of the gastrointestinal tract as well as the pancreas & liver.
The mucosal membranes of the gut are packed with microbes. Most of these have a symbiotic relationship with the host individual. This inner world of thriving bacteria exudes endotoxins throughout the day. When the level of endotoxins reaches a critical mass concentration, it triggers an immune response led by cytokine interleukin-2. Sleep is thought to be that immune response.
This sleep cycle begins with the production of melatonin from the pineal gland. In the middle of the night, the hormone prolactin is secreted in large amounts. These two hormones promote an immune reaction that thins out the microflora in an attempt to restore a healthy balance. This process also targets viruses, pathogenic bacteria, man-made chemicals and foreign proteins in the body.
This entire cycle lasts 8 hours in order for the necessary amount of melatonin and prolactin production to occur. With inadequate sleep, these hormones are unable to effectively enhance immunity enough to clean up the microflora and other toxic debris in the gastrointestinal system. Each night of poor sleep cripples the immune system and leads to disabled T cell and natural killer cell formation.
Within the gut, melatonin is an important regulator of motility and inflammation. It modulates inflammation with its ability to control free-radicals and proinflammatory molecules through its powerful anti-oxidant function. Additionally, it influences intestinal bacteria and T-helper cell formation. Healthy gut bacteria and T-helper cells help to balance the immune system and to regulate inflammatory levels.
Melatonin is known to help improve microcirculation throughout the gut which helps foster epithelial regeneration. Additionally, it preserves glutathione levels and prevents lysosomal enzyme disruption. This is especially important because increased inflammatory levels in the bowel lead to leaky gut syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), ulcerative colitis, auto-immunity, etc.
When we sleep, the brain produces 90 minute cycles of slow wave sleep. This is then followed by periods of rapid eye movement (REM) during which dreams occur. During the night, the gut also produces 90 minute slow wave muscle contractions which are followed by short burst of rapid movement. When the gut is full at night, it can disrupt this process. Additionally, poor sleep cycles can dramatically affect digestive function and the healing process within the gut.
Melatonin was shown to significantly reduce the degree of proinflammatory cytokine release, cell apoptosis, and overall colonic injury. This is due to the improved blood flow, immunomodulation and anti-oxidant effects. It is clear that sleep and digestive function have a very intimate relationship and confer this relationship into the overall function of the immune system.
September 3rd, 2010
By: David Gutierrez
Growing awareness about the prevalence and risks of vitamin D deficiency is leading more and more doctors to test their patients’ blood levels of the vitamin.
“Upwards of 70 percent of American adults are vitamin D deficient or insufficient,” said cardiologist James O’Keefe of St. Luke’s Mid-America Heart Institute. “In the last year, awareness of vitamin D deficiency has really exploded.”
Vitamin D is more properly classified as a hormone, and it helps regulate gene function in various parts of the body. It is naturally synthesized in the skin upon exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight, but sedentism and growing use of sunblock have worsened deficiency rates in recent decades.
According to O’Keefe, vitamin D testing has become the most popular “a la carte” blood test ordered by doctors in the past year. The test costs about $100, and is covered by some insurance providers.
Vitamin D is known to play a role in bone health and immune function, but many doctors are now fingering deficiency for a number of more general complaints. Carla Aamodt, another doctor at St. Luke’s, notes that when she orders supplementation for patients with vitamin D levels below 10 nanograms per milliliter, the patients feel better overall, have more energy with less muscle aches and pains.”
The jury is still out on optimal vitamin D levels, but researchers agree that they fall somewhere between 30 and 40 nanograms per milliliter.
Billie Howard Barnes of Kansas City suffered from chronic pain until her doctor ordered a vitamin D test and discovered that her blood levels were a paltry 5 nanograms per milliliter.
“I’m 43, and getting up in the morning, my feet would hit the floor and every joint in my body was sore,” Barnes said. “I didn’t realize how bad it had gotten. It just kind of crept up on me.”
After taking a high-dose supplement for a few weeks, Barnes began to recover.
“It wasn’t an instant thing, but I just feel much better,” she said. “I’m not as stiff. Colleagues say there’s more pep in my step.”
August 10, 2010
By: Ethan A. Huff
A recent study out of the University of Tampere in Finland has found that vitamin D helps to prevent respiratory infections. In the study, supplementing with vitamin D resulted in more than half the participants who took it staying healthy throughout the trial, compared to just over 30 percent in the control group.
Dr. Ilkka Laaksi and her team evaluated a group of 164 males going into the military to see if vitamin D supplementation affected their overall health. They gave part of the group 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D a day for six months, and the other part of the group a placebo pill for the same period of time. Those who took vitamin D experienced greater overall health and less respiratory infections than those who did not.
Laaksi was quick to say that the study reveals “some evidence” that vitamin D helps prevent respiratory infections, but that such a benefit is not entirely clear.
Though 400 IU of vitamin D a day meets recommended government intake recommendations, many in the medical profession are now realizing that this level is far too low to offer much therapeutic effect. Some suspect that if a higher dose had been used in the study, the effects would have been even more significant.
This hypothesis was illustrated in a recent Japanese study that administered 1,200 IU doses of vitamin D to schoolchildren. Those who took this dose every day had a much lower chance of developing influenza than others.
It is, however, unclear which form of vitamin D the team used in the Finland study. Vitamin D2 is not as effective as vitamin D3, but researchers often use D2 in study trials, which can make vitamin D appear less effective.