Melatonin and Macular Degeneration/Telomeres
In a previous newsletter (Melatonin and COVID), I point out that I devoted an entire chapter to melatonin in “Health Secrets Vol 2: Surviving Modern Times”. I did so because melatonin is more than just a sleep aid; it has many functions, including being an anti-cancer and longevity agent. And, since melatonin is suppressed by electromagnetic pollution (well-documented in animal and human studies), and we are all dwelling in a sea of electrosmog, I always take a small amount of melatonin (2-3 mg), and suggest that most city-dwellers do the same.
Now a new benefit of melatonin has surfaced, that of helping to protect our eyes.
While melatonin is synthesized mainly in the pineal gland, it is also produced in many other organs, including the retina, which makes sense since “the eye is a primary recipient of circadian signals.”
Recent studies have already determined “that circulating melatonin levels in age-related macular degeneration patients were significantly lower than those in age-matched controls”. (Study) So it made sense for scientists to see if there was a direct link between melatonin deficiency and macular degeneration.
It had already been well established that melatonin has strong antioxidative properties, properties which allowed it to play a protective role against many diseases associated with oxidative stress, including premature aging and degenerative diseases. “Therefore, melatonin may play a role in age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a disease affecting photoreceptors, and retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) with an established role of oxidative stress in its pathogenesis.”
How does melatonin work to protect the eyes? Well, there appear to be at least three mechanisms involved.
Firstly, a number of studies have shown that the powerful antioxidant properties of melatonin could protect RPE cells against free radical damage.
Secondly, “melatonin behaves like synthetic mitochondria-targeted antioxidants, which concentrate in mitochondria at relatively high levels; thus, melatonin may prevent mitochondrial damage in AMD.” (“Mitochondria are membrane-bound cell organelles that generate most of the chemical energy needed to power the cell's biochemical reactions.” Source)
Finally, “the retina contains telomerase, an enzyme implicated in maintaining the length of telomeres, and oxidative stress inhibits telomere synthesis, while melatonin overcomes this effect”. Thus, “it seems that melatonin targeting this enzyme in the retina could be a direct strategy to prevent AMD”.
Those three benefits of melatonin led the authors of this study to conclude that melatonin should be considered “as a preventive and therapeutic agent in the treatment of AMD.” (Study)
Before I finish, let’s have a quick look at telomeres.
Researchers, who performed the above study, found the activity of telomerase in the retina to be of particular interest, since this enzyme (which breaks down telomeres) is also active in cancer cells.
Telomeres are defined as “caps” at the ends of chromosomes, often described like the caps at the end of a shoelace. They protect chromosomes from deterioration and fusion during mitosis (cell division), and the major purpose of mitosis is for growth, and to replace worn out cells as we age.
However, “telomeres are progressively eroded with successive rounds of cell divisions and by attrition, attributed to processes such as oxidative stress”.
Basically, as when the cap wears off of the shoelace, the ends fray. In telomeres, this fraying leads to poor cellular replication, and is believed to be a major constituent of premature aging, and age-related disease.
Telomere length (indicating its health) varies between people, independent of age, “due to differences in both genetic and environmental determinants.”
Given that telomere length, determined by the integrity of the “caps” on the end, is a determinant of longevity and health, anything that improves the telomeres not only protects our eyes; it supports our entire being.
Lifestyle factors that influence telomere length include regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and reducing stress. (Source)
One major nutritional supporter of healthy telomeres is vitamin D. For example, the conclusion of this study was: “Our findings support a possible positive association between 25(OH)D levels and telomere length.”
Since nutrition has a major impact on the length of our telomeres, one is generally advised to have a diet rich in foods that are high in antioxidants. These include fruit, legumes, nuts, vegetables, seaweed, and green tea.
According to the website of Dr. Dean Ornish, these five foods have scientific evidence that they support telomere length and health: berries; flax; mushrooms; oats; and spinach. (Source)
Other nutritional agents that support our telomeres include omega 3 fatty acids, and astragalus extract.
Our ImmuneStart contains astragalus extract along with concentrated extracts of five medicinal mushrooms. And, according to one source, “those of longer life spans, especially occupying parts of Japan, eat mushrooms like Reishi, Chaga, Shiitake, Turkey Tail, Cordyceps, Lion’s mane, and others. They are well known for their cancer fighting and prevention properties as well as maintaining the life span of our telomeres.” (Source)
Four of these mushrooms are among the mix found in ImmuneStart (reishi, cordyceps, shiitake, and turkey tail), indicating that this product would be very supportive of maintaining telomere length.
When looking at everyday vitamins and minerals, there is one detailed study where participants were given quite a cocktail of nutritional supplements, with the result that “the nutritional supplement group experienced a statistically significant increase in telomere length compared to the control group. There was a 10% increase in telomere length on average in the supplemented group.” (Study)
This is what the subjects not getting the placebo received:
1 capsule containing a mix of vitamins including vitamins C, E, K2 (as MK-7), B1, B6, B12, niacin, and beta-carotene.
4,000 IU of vitamin D (2,000 IU as a drop and 2,000 IU in capsule form).
2 capsules of omega 3-6-9 combination formula.
4 capsules of an antioxidant formulation of vitamins and minerals (no phytochemicals).
Probiotics (containing specific strains of Lactobacillus spp and Bifidobacterium spp) combined with prebiotics.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) as ubiquinol.
L-glutamine combined with oligofructose (FOS).
All of which points out the benefits of having a complete nutritional supplementation program (a good portion of which can be found in our NutriPods products).
We all need to seriously consider all options for preventing macular degeneration as we are more prone to getting it now, more than ever in history. That is because we are over-exposed to blue light from fluorescent light, compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs, LEDs, flat screen LED televisions, computer monitors, smartphones and tablet screens.
For more on the subject of protecting your eyes from macular degeneration, have a read of this older newsletter of mine, Protecting the Eyes from Macular Degeneration and Blue Screen Damage.
And, for more on the subject of general eye health I will refer you to this older blog, A Perspective on Vision.