Healthy Aging

Melatonin and Respiratory Infection Risk in Seniors

How melatonin may stave off pneumonia

When most people hear “melatonin,” they think of a sleep-support supplement. Fair enough: the hormone is well shown to support healthy circadian rhythms and improve the quality of sleep.

Thanks to melatonin’s strong antioxidant effects, however, it may also play a role in protecting us against the serious complications of respiratory tract infections.1 Melatonin supplementation may be of particular value to elders, a population at greater risk of developing pneumonia and other complications of respiratory tract infections. Even something as simple as the common cold can lead to complications in seniors.

Following our natural circadian rhythms, the concentration of melatonin in our blood increases dramatically from 15–20 pg/mL during the day to 30–180 pg/mL at night. It has been observed that nighttime melatonin concentrations seldom rise above 30 pg/mL in seniors, however.2 This could mean that seniors are essentially melatonin deficient.

Seniors are essentially melatonin deficient.

This drop in melatonin production likely predisposes seniors to low-grade, chronic inflammation, cancer, and a variety of other age-related diseases,1 and even may play a role in COVID-19 related hospitalizations and deaths. Thankfully, the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits of melatonin supplementation have been observed in aging populations.3

Interestingly, supplementation with adaptogenic herbs has also been shown to reduce the incidence and severity of viral upper respiratory infections – at least in part on account of their ability to activate the body’s melatonin signaling pathway.4 ­

Melatonin may further protect seniors from the viral respiratory infections that commonly precede pneumonia, thanks to the hormone’s immunomodulatory and antioxidant functions.5 Several animal studies have demonstrated melatonin’s ability to reduce viral load, decrease the incidence of virus-related illness, and lower the risk of death.6,7 For example, melatonin was found to have significant therapeutic potential in influenza A H1N1 virus infection and to improve the efficacy of concurrent antiviral drug treatment.8

Several animal studies have demonstrated melatonin’s ability to reduce viral load, decrease the incidence of virus-related illness, and lower the risk of death.

In mice with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), melatonin has been observed to fight oxidation and stop the production of inflammatory chemicals. These findings suggest that melatonin can quell RSV-induced inflammatory lung injury.9 Treatment with melatonin has been shown to reduce viral load and/or virus-related pathology and death in several other animal disease models as well.6,7,10

Studies suggest melatonin may also have positive effects in other types of lung conditions, including the difficult to treat condition known as sarcoidosis, which can lead to fibrosis and scaring of the lungs.11–13

Clearly, melatonin is one versatile antioxidant. Given the heightened risk of viral respiratory infections and subsequent pneumonia within elder populations during this time, it is evident that we need more than good hygiene practices to keep our seniors healthy and safe. Melatonin is available over-the-counter, is generally affordable, and has an overall excellent safety profile. (Note that high doses of melatonin may sometimes cause vivid dreams or morning grogginess; starting with a low dose is typically better tolerated.)

Melatonin may very well stave off viral infections and their complications, offering us an easy-to-implement strategy for protecting a vulnerable and valuable stratum of our society.

References

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Managing Menopause

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