Melatonin: Anti-Aging, Immune Boosting, Master Hormone
The Melatonin Miracle
by Walter Pierpaoli, MD, PhD
and William Regelson, MD
and Carol Colman
CHAPTER 3 Finding the Aging Clock
My research had persuaded me that my preconceptions about aging were wrong. I could no longer accept the conventional wisdom that aging occurred as individual cells gave out, one after another, at random. On the contrary, everything that I had learned about the interrelationship of our bodily systems and the glands and organs that comprise them had convinced me that nature had put so much care into the design of our bodies that the notion that aging had been left to chance was inconceivable. I knew that somewhere in our brain there had to be an aging clock, a chief regulator that controlled the aging process. From infancy, through puberty, through our reproductive years and beyond, we follow a preordained schedule of events that are well timed and so highly orchestrated that somewhere there had to be a "conductor." I also had an intuitive feeling that I had already identified the clock, but that I did not know it, that somewhere in the tens of thousands of pages of notes that I had taken in the course of performing hundreds of experiments, the aging clock had already revealed itself. However, like so many scientists who become fixated on one piece of the puzzle, I had become too nearsighted to see the truth. I was either in the midst of an experiment, or planning my next one, or too busy to step back and get the perspective I needed to find the missing piece of the puzzle. Sensing this, I knew that I needed time for reflection.
I have always believed that to be a true scientist, one must be more than a skilled technician. Although it is important to know how to devise the right experiments, how to execute them with precision, and how to properly record and interpret data, a scientist who is proficient only in these skills accomplishes only half the job. In reality, a true scientist must also be something of a philosopher. In other words, I think that gathering and interpreting results is not enough. After an experiment is completed and results are obtained, a scientist needs to pause and think and reflect on what we might call the big picture. It is important to look up from our own work and to see how it fits into a broader context. This is the process of synthesizing, or of combining findings with other findings to develop a coherent theory or explanation of why things are the way they are.
I have often thought that my most important breakthroughs resulted not from work done in the laboratory—although I am very proud of my laboratory research—but from the quiet hours I spent reflecting on my results and their wider implications. It was during these thoughtful periods of synthesis that I was able, as you might say, to see the forest through the trees, and that I began to develop the theory—or, if you will, philosophy—that finally led me to identify the aging clock.
In the previous chapter, I described my research on the endocrine system, the hormone-producing system of glands that regulates the most important aspects of our lives, including how we grow and develop physically and sexually. I also described my research on the immune system, whose special cells protect us against disease. I explained how I had devoted years of research to demonstrating that there was a connection between these two systems, and how eventually I did establish that the two systems are intertwined, and that the hormones of the endocrine system are in constant communication with the special cells of the immune system.
When I finally had the time for reflection, I was struck by the fact that the immune system and the endocrine system are so closely linked. I spent a great deal of time pondering why these two systems should be so closely connected. I knew that it wasn't just by chance. The human body is an exquisitely designed machine and nature has taken great pains to fine-tune and perfect all our vital parts. If nature had linked the endocrine system to the immune system, and moreover made it such a critical, important link, there had to be a compelling reason. At this point the philosopher in me took over, and the more I pondered this synergistic relationship, the more I realized that the connections between these two systems were more profound than I had first imagined.
To understand what I mean, you, too, need to step back and view the big picture, and consider the niche that we occupy in our world. We are but one species on an earth filled with literally over one million species. What makes us (and each other animal species) different is our unique genetic identity. A complex mix of genetic material is what gives us our specific identities. For example, human DNA does not look exactly like monkey DNA and neither of these look exactly like dog DNA. Each species has its own particular genetic code. Even within the same species, there are subtle differences that can distinguish one animal, or one person, from another. Your DNA does not look exactly like your neighbor's or, for that matter, your sibling's. That is why DNA testing has become such an important tool in identifying criminals.
Sometimes, because we humans are the dominant species, we forget that we are part of an ecosystem, and that life for many species in our ecosystem can be hazardous. The fundamental reason a species becomes extinct is because for some reason—starvation, disease, e chemical contamination—it becomes unable to mate or reproduce. For example, peregrine falcons were threatened with extinction because pesticides entering their food chain altered their DNA, causing 1, their egg shells to become too soft. Obviously, when a species cannot reproduce, it cannot pass on its unique genetic identity to future ' generations. The line cannot continue. Absent reproduction, there ; can be no continuation of a species, man or beast. Absent sexual attraction and sex (or a test tube substitute for it), there would be no possibility of reproduction.
All right then. We know that what makes us unique, both as a species and as individuals, is the genetic material that we carry at a cellular level. We know that if our line is to continue, we must be able to reproduce and pass this genetic material on. In order to reproduce, we need to keep our bodies healthy and strong, and our genetic material safe and intact. Viewed in this larger context, it becomes apparent that the job of our immune system is not just to protect us from disease, but to protect our species from extinction. By protecting us and our cells, our immune system permits us to reproduce and transmit our identity as a species and as individuals into future generations.
The immune system protects us from invading bacteria and viruses that can cause infection. The immune system is also an internal surveillance system that continuously monitors our bodies in order to detect and neutralize abnormal cells that can destroy DNA. One of the major jobs of the immune system is to distinguish our own cells from foreign cells, to differentiate between what immunologists call "self" and "non-self." It knows what cells belong in our bodies, and what cells do not, and when it identifies the latter, it attacks them. Without our immune systems, we would either be too weak to reproduce or, if we did reproduce, we would transmit defective genetic material. In either case, our species would eventually become extinct. The immune system, therefore, is the guardian of our genetic legacy.
Clearly then, nature knew what it was doing when it linked the immune system with the endocrine system, which controls reproduction. In the process of protecting us and keeping us well, the immune system makes it possible for the act of reproduction to occur, and without it, we would lose our identity as a species. We would lose our ability to pass our DNA on to future generations, and we would vanish.
With this in mind, I decided that it was time to step back yet again and try to gain a still broader point of view. Here we have the immune system connected to the endocrine system, and together these systems function to help ensure our survival as individuals and as a species. How else, I wondered, are they united in this common purpose?
This question led me, of course, back to the pineal gland.
By this time, science had repeatedly shown that the pineal gland, the regulator of regulators, helps control and harmonize the functioning of our reproductive (endocrine) and immune systems. For example, science had taught us that it is instructions issued by the pineal that command animals to migrate to their breeding grounds and to mate. The pineal also controls the onset of puberty in humans. Other studies—some performed in my own laboratories—had shown that the pineal, through the release of the hormone melatonin, affects the function of our immune systems.
Why, I began to wonder, had science assigned to the pineal gland the supervision of these two systems—systems that define and determine the essence and continuation of life itself? What else, I began to wonder, could this remarkable gland do? Could its power extend even beyond these two systems, and if so, how far?
Call it deductive reasoning, call it logic, call it a pure leap of faith. I had a feeling that I was closing in on a target that had always eluded detection. Could it be, I hypothesized, that the pineal gland was the body's aging clock? Could the pineal gland be the mechanism in the body that governs and controls how we age?
I decided that to test my hypothesis—to determine whether there was any real basis for my intuition—I needed to know everything that could be known about melatonin, the hormone secreted, primarily during the night, by the pineal gland. Keep in mind that by this time pineal experts had established that melatonin production declines as we humans (and other animals) age. Of course to them, this was just another of those inevitable facts of aging. To me, when viewed in the context of the pineal's role as the regulator of the endocrine and immune systems, it was a revelation. What they perceived to be only a symptom of aging, I began to view as the cause.
I knew that melatonin was not like other hormones. I had seen in my own experiments the devastating effect that a disruption in melatonin production can cause. When we kept mice under continuous light, so that their melatonin production was decreased and erratic, their immune function was depressed and they aged prematurely and died young. In addition, within four generations they stopped reproducing altogether. It struck me that if I could accelerate aging by interfering with the pineal's ability to produce melatonin, then I ought to be able to slow down the aging process and restore youthful vigor. If I could take a young animal and make it old, I ought to be able to do the reverse—rejuvenate an old, tired animal. I believed that I could do this by supplementing melatonin levels later in life, at the point in time at which naturally occurring levels began to decline.
To determine whether melatonin levels were really influencing the aging process, I devised a rigorous experiment, the nature and startling results of which I will now describe.
Melatonin: Growing Young
Do you recall how, in the first chapter of this book, when we asked you to picture yourself in your mind's eye as an "old person," you conjured the image of someone worn, frail, and growing increasingly more debilitated with the passing years?
What if we asked you to perform the same exercise now that you know that by taking melatonin you can reset your body's aging clock? Is the image you hold in your mind now different? We hope it is.
We hope that the information we have given in these chapters about the aging clock has already succeeded in changing your attitude about aging, because thanks to what we now know about melatonin and the body's aging clock, we are the first generation that need not experience the downward spiral that has become synonymous with aging. Aging, in that sense, is a thing of the past. Indeed, our purpose in writing this book is not only to change your attitude about the future, but to actually change your future.
Ours is the first generation that need not experience senescence, the dismal physical decline now associated with old age. We are the first generation that need not resign ourselves to accepting the fate that our later years will be filled with debility and disease. Ours is the first generation that has the capacity, by resetting our aging clock, to actually prolong youthful health and vitality into our eighties, nineties, and possibly even our hundreds.
The time has come for us to stop regarding our later years as a period of winding down. By resetting our body's aging clock with melatonin, we believe it is possible not only to extend life by decades, but by healthy, youthful, productive decades. Rather than growing old, we are talking about the possibility of maintaining our youthful health and functions even as we age.
In earlier chapters, we explained that the pineal, the tiny gland embedded deep within the brain, controls the aging process. We call the pineal gland our aging clock because it is the body's timekeeper. We age because our pineal function declines over time, and as it does it produces less melatonin. This reduction in melatonin signals to the rest of the body that it is time for it to age. But if we reset our aging clock by taking melatonin, we can reverse those signals and stave off the downward spiral. Is this merely some vague and nonspecific promise of renewal? On the contrary, as you will see in the chapters that follow, the research indicates that melatonin supplementation can forestall the very real and very destructive effects of aging, including weakened immune function, cancer, sleep disorders, and heart disease.
The promise of melatonin may at first strike you as miraculous but there is nothing magical or mysterious about it. Melatonin works by restoring the function of the pineal gland, and thus it restores the balance to our body that we need to maintain the health we naturally enjoy in youth. The pineal gland is the "regulator" of the glands in our body that produce the hormones that run all our essential bodily systems. By keeping the pineal gland functioning well, melatonin helps to sustain and maintain all the different organ systems that keep the body running smoothly and efficiently. In youth our bodies work well because all our systems are working in tandem. Remember our analogy with the orchestra conductor? Without the conductor, the wind section and brass section may fall out of step and before long the harmonious music is lost.
As we age, and our pineal function declines, our central regulator loses some of its control over the various body systems. It is like an orchestra operating with a conductor who is no longer in control. Just as would happen in the case of the orchestra, without our central regulator performing at peak function, our body systems, once left to their own devices, soon fall out of sync. The disharmony that ensues leads to a gradual breakdown of the systems themselves. Melatonin supplementation can prevent this disorganized state of affairs from occurring.
We believe that melatonin supplementation works because it addresses not the symptoms but the underlying disease, which is aging itself. The positive effects of melatonin are well documented. It has been shown to bolster immune function, lower blood cholesterol levels, protect against the negative effects of stress, restore healthy sleep patterns, and help the body defend against cancer and heart disease. We want to emphasize, however, that these individual benefits are the result of melatonin's more primary and overarching function—to target the underlying conditions that give rise to these particular problems. We believe that what is truly remarkable in the discoveries regarding melatonin and the pineal gland is that we now have the key to getting ahead of the degenerative diseases normally associated with aging. By taking only a very small dose of melatonin, just enough to boost your melatonin level back to what it was when you were in your twenties, you can keep your body and each of its essential systems functioning in the synchronized manner they did in your youth. (Please refer to Chapter 14 for detailed discussion of dosage recommendations.) By supplementing melatonin after our natural production drops off, we can thereby maintain the conditions that kept us healthy, vital, and youthful in our younger years. To better understand exactly how melatonin works these wonders upon our bodies, let's take a closer look at the mechanics involved in the age-reversing properties of melatonin.
MELATONIN: THE NORMALIZER
As we have observed, the pineal gland is not just another gland; on the contrary, it is the super-gland that regulates all other glands. The pineal gland is called the regulator of the body because it helps to maintain normal hormone levels and the normal cycling of hormones. It does this by transmitting messages through its primary messenger, melatonin.
Hormones control virtually all of our bodily functions, including the maintenance of body temperature, reproduction, blood pressure, kidney function, and even the very beating of our hearts. Melatonin is a buffer hormone, because unlike other hormones that exert a direct, targeted influence on a particular organ or system, melatonin operates indirectly by modulating or fine-tuning other hormone levels. The job of melatonin is to ensure that the levels of other vital hormones stay within a normal range in response to environmental change.
As we age, the levels of many key hormones change, and this can throw our body's organ systems out of whack. This happens because the pineal gland, the regulator, begins to break down, and as a result its ability to produce melatonin begins to falter. By taking melatonin supplements, we can strengthen the functioning of the pineal gland and prevent further destruction. By restoring the pineal function, we can restore other important hormones to their youthful levels, and by doing so, we will retain the youthful state of our bodies.
The way in which melatonin helps our bodies combat the negative effects of stress is a good example. When we are under stress, our adrenal glands produce stress hormones called corticosteroids. Exposure over time to high levels of corticosteroids can cause damage to many of our organs, including the heart, the brain, and even the arteries that carry blood throughout the body. Indeed, chronic exposure to corticosteroids has been linked both to heart disease and Alzheimer's disease. When we are young and our corticosteroid levels become too high, it is melatonin that works together with other hormones to quickly bring them down to normal levels. But as we age, and our melatonin level declines, its influence on corticosteroids declines too. As a result, our corticosteroid level remains higher for longer periods of time, thus increasing our exposure to these potentially damaging hormones. By taking melatonin, we can restore corticosteroids back to healthier youthful levels. (For more on stress, see Chapter 11.)
Much of what goes wrong in old age is the effect of our hormones no longer maintaining the balance they once did. In fact the diseases that have become associated with normal aging such as diabetes and heart disease, as well as many types of cancers, are largely the result of what happens when the correct balance of hormone levels is upset. By restoring the proper hormonal balance, melatonin can help prevent many of these diseases and keep our bodies youthful.
Pierpaoli's website: http://www.drpierpaoli.com/index.php?node=293&lng=2&rif=ed5bd85078
"Depression is the most dangerous and devastating of all diseases, in so far it deprives us of any joy and motivation of life. Depression blocks and alters mental biochemistry and creates a vicious circle of negative events in the body and in the brain. For centuries induced fear and depression have been utilized by authoritarian and tyrannical religious movements and regimes to enslave people and make them docile and subdued."
"I recommend a regular nightly intake of melatonin of 3 mg., with
additional zinc for all persons more than 40 years old. Melatonin can
also be taken by younger persons for periods of weeks or months,
especially when under conditions of severe stress, insomnia, jet-lag and a number of pathologies, including autoimmune diseases of all kind."
"...one could speculate that aging is by-itself the progressive
extinction of the capacity to distinguish between "self" and "non-self," namely to maintain self-tolerance. This is typically shown in the emergence of autoimmune diseases and cancer, which is progressive with aging."
"Did anybody replicate my experiments with melatonin
<http://www.antiaging-systems.com/a2z/melatonin.htm> and pineal grafting before they criticized me? No! This is a true mystery of the 20th century. This question must be addressed in particular, to those
scientists who, without any justification whatsoever, spread injury and false news by hiding behind the safety curtain of "prestigious
journals." Their behavior must be condemned and made public, because
their irresponsible and irrational attacks have produced an awful lot of damage to millions of persons around the world."