Researchers Review Melatonin’s Therapeutic Potential for Mitochondrial Dysfunction-related Diseases

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by Alice Melão |

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Melatonin's therapeutic potential

Researchers from the Shahrekord University of Medical Sciences, in Iran presented the most recent findings of the clinical effects of the hormone melatonin on the development of diseases related to mitochondrial dysfunction, such as diabetes, cancer, gastrointestinal diseases, and conditions related to brain function.

The review study, “Melatonin and human mitochondrial diseases,” was published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences.

Mitochondria, often called the energy powerhouses of cells, are essential for cells to work properly due in great part to their essential role in energy production. However, this energy production is associated with the development of reactive oxygen species (ROS) or oxidative species.

When mitochondria are dysfunctional, in many cases due to genetic mutations, it can lead to oxidative imbalance and an accumulation of ROS, a process called oxidative stress. This can cause damage to organs, tissues, and various cells in the brain, heart, and vascular system.

In addition, several studies have identified oxidative stress as an important adjuvant cause of several diseases, such as high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and infectious diseases.

Melatonin is a hormone known for its important role in regulation of sleep and wakefulness. It is currently used as an over-the-counter supplement to treat insomnia and other sleep-related conditions. This hormone is also used to reduce some side effects of cancer chemotherapy such as weight loss and fatigue.

Of note, melatonin is also recognized for its potent antioxidant activity. With an active role in the protection of mitochondrial DNA and other biological compounds from oxidative agents, it can potentially protect the cells’ walls, organs, and nuclei against damage caused by free radicals.

The authors of the study highlight the importance of melatonin as a possible therapeutic asset for diseases in which oxidative stress plays a role, such as:

  • Affective disorder
  • Attention‑deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Autism
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Gastrointestinal diseases
  • Obesity

Melatonin has been shown to have therapeutic proprieties against a wide variety of pathological conditions. As it is normally produced by our body and it can be purified from plants, it can be an inexpensive and safe medication. However, previous studies have reported some mild adverse side effects after use of therapeutic melatonin, including dizziness, confusion, daytime sleepiness, headache and others.

Importantly, drug interactions of melatonin with anticoagulants, immunosuppressant drugs, anti-diabetes drugs, and birth control pills were also reported.

More clinical studies are still needed to explore and confirm melatonin’s effectiveness as a therapeutic asset for mitochondrial dysfuntion-related diseases.