09/13/2013 12:18 EDT | Updated 11/13/2013 05:12 EST

Melatonin Can Do Much More Than Help You Sleep

There's a reason melatonin is on many doctor's must-have anti-aging list and touted by celebrities like Suzanne Somers for its powerful ability to encourage sleep and slow aging.

While melatonin is produced during deep sleep, its benefits are not reserved to the midnight hours, however. From reducing PMS and migraines to slimming waistlines and boosting thyroid, this little magic pill does more than just put the 'beauty' back in sleep.

More melatonin, less PMS: If your monthly PMS symptoms have you pulling out your hair (or send your partner running for the hills) you may want to look at your sleep habits. A new study by Douglas Mental Health University Institute researchers has shown that low melatonin levels play a role in premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), or good old fashioned PMS. This doesn't, however, just affect one week in the month. Compared to their counterparts, PMDD sufferers had a further reduction in melatonin levels during their symptomatic luteal phase (the second half of their menstrual cycle when progesterone is at its highest). If this sounds familiar, try taking melatonin on days 12-28 of your cycle (with day one being the first day of bleeding) to see if takes the edge off your mood, and provides a restful slumber back into your nights.

Age in reverse: If you didn't worry about it in your first 30 years, you will in the next 30...aging. More specifically, how to look, feel and even live younger. The great news is melatonin has been shown to slow down the aging process. A research team in Paris found melatonin-based treatment can delay the first signs of aging in small mammals by at least three months (considering the animal lives just to 12 months, this is quite substantial!). While it may not get you carded while buying your favourite bottle of red wine, it will keep people thinking there are substantially less candles on your birthday cake.

Keep your belt a little tighter: We all know that the morning after a poor night's sleep can leave you veering from your diet and craving high-sugar foods. Well, low melatonin levels are actually a risk factor for diabetes (PMS, and now diabetes? It's true). Melatonin receptors have been found in many tissues of the body, including the pancreas which produces insulin (the fat-storing hormone). According to the Nurses' Health Study, participants with the lowest melatonin levels faced two times the risk of developing diabetes, compared with those with the highest levels. It certainly poses the question: does pre-diabetes begin with insomnia? I feel I can safely say, yes.

In a separate study, University of Granada researchers found that melatonin can even control weight gain without reducing food intake showing that sleep is indeed a required weight loss remedy.

Manage your migraines: My bet is that if you suffer from migraines, you would likely try anything to put an end to the discomfort and get a good night's sleep. Low levels of melatonin have been linked to a variety of headache types and have been shown to alleviate the pain. Results from one study, presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 65th annual meeting showed that, "Three mg of melatonin was more effective than the placebo and had efficacy similar to that of 25 mg of amitriptyline, a common sleep aid and antidepressant. Furthermore, it was better tolerated than amitriptyline, with lower rates of daytime sleepiness and no weight gain."

Supporting research published in Neurology, found that two thirds of patients taking 3 mg of melatonin nightly experienced a 50 per cent reduction of headaches per month. Additionally, the intensity and duration of headaches decreased. Adding this to the arsenal of migraine prevention techniques such as magnesium supplementation or a gluten-free diet may be your ticket to living headache-free.

Wake up a sluggish thyroid: As we age, night levels of melatonin also decline and with it comes an overall decrease in quality and quantity of sleep -- not to mention a reduction in many hormones and thyroid, your metabolic master -- is one of them. Researchers from the Menopause Center in Italy found that among peri-menopausal and menopausal women ages 42-62, administering 3 mg of melatonin at bedtime caused most of the women to report a general improvement of mood and a reduction in symptoms of depression, and highly significant improvement of thyroid function. This makes melatonin another powerful tool in the fight against the dreaded belly fat of menopause.

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