The Yin and Yang Hormones of the Pineal gland, and the link between Serotonin and Melatonin Production in relation to light sensitivity via the Pineal gland.
The pineal gland is the size of a pea lying in the center of the midbrain. It reaches its largest mass during childhood, and calcifies and shrinks with age. It is responsible for the production of both neurohormones, Melatonin and Serotonin.
The Pineal Gland is necessary to regulate the function of all organs of the Endocrine System in the body, these are the Pituitary Gland, Thyroid + Parathyroid Glands; thymus, adrenals, Pancreas, and the Ovaries/Testes.
All of the endocrine organs/glands secrete their hormones into the blood stream. The Pituitary Gland stimulates the secretion of these hormones, while the Pineal Gland applies the brakes on them through Melatonin. If the endocrine organs/glands release too much of their hormones, ie. when we are stressed, then the Pineal Gland releases Melatonin to counteract these hormones. This means that Melatonin protects the body from exhaustion of hormones and energy, and the aging process.
Melatonin also up regulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms the body and mind. It is made at night time, and protects the body from exhaustion, which in Chinese Medicine this is known as a Yin attribute.
Yin and yang can be looked at like an oil burner, the yang is the flame and the yin is the oil. The fire or the body is dependant on the nourishment of the oil. If the oil is used up, the oil burner cracks and dries up. It is an interesting link to make that Melatonin is a Yin hormone and Serotonin is a Yang hormone, and both are interdependent upon each other.
The Pineal Gland is a photosensitive organ, and how it functions is dependent upon light. The amount of Melatonin produced by the pineal gland is determined by the amount of light received during the night, less light means more melatonin is produced, more light means we produce less melatonin. During nighttime sleep, melatonin levels in the body rise, reaching a peak between 11 PM and 2 AM, and then drop dramatically when a new day dawns. Interestingly, these are the same hours in which the Chinese believe the body makes Yin substances.
So when the body no longer receives light the Pineal releases melatonin, and its partner hormone Serotonin is at its lowest levels, and vice versa, melatonin production is reduced when the body perceives light and serotonin production is increased. Meditation (a Yin activity) has also found to increase melatonin levels.
It has recently been discovered that the pineal gland detects light through the whole body, not just through the retina in the eye. This means that even if you wear an eye mask at night, the pineal gland will still detect light being emitted under your door, or through cracks in your blinds. So ensure that your room is inky black at night by sealing up all cracks that may let light in. This will ensure that the pineal gland makes the right amount of melatonin, and does not over produce Serotonin (more on this discussed later).
The Effects of Melatonin.
Melatonin alleviates mental stress, improves sleep, adjusts the body's biological clock, relieves jet lag, strengthens immunity, increases the body's resistance to germs and viruses, and prevents cancer and senile dementia. This is why night workers and those who sleep with the light on have a lower immunity to disease and a higher propensity to develop cancer than others.
It also controls over-stimulation of the sympathetic nerves to lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate, thus reducing the impact on the heart, and due to its calming effect on the body it can also up regulate the digestive system.
Two studies in the U.S. have shown that bright light at night reduces melatonin production and induces estrogen secretion in women, which in turn increases the incidence of breast cancer among female night workers. Research on infants who died from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) found that the babies had underdeveloped pineal glands, which lowered melatonin levels and weakened the brain's ability to deal with free radicals (molecules with an unpaired electron), thus making the brain vulnerable to free radical damage. Another study on children and adult hypochondria suggests that the melatonin levels of psychiatric patients are lower than those of healthy people.
Serotonin is found to have a large effect on our mood and perception, but it is also a muscle- and vasoconstrictor, and plays an important role in sleep, appetite, memory, aggression, sexual behavior, cardiovascular activity, respiratory activity, motor output, sensory and neuroendocrine function. Serotonin gets released when stress is involved. The increased serotonin triggers the release of adrenaline, which allows the body to work through the stress.
It is important to note that SSRI-AntiDepressants activate Serotonin receptors. When you elevate your serotonin levels the stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin are secreted from the adrenal glands. They give the human personality a boost, producing a euphoric state, which can last for a prolonged period of time. This is how SSRI-AntiDepressants initially produce the deceptive results the doctor and patient are both expecting.
It is important to note that if patient takes SSRI’s for a prolonged period of time, or they have too much prolonged light exposure increasing their serotonin production and thus an increase of the stress hormones being released, this will drain the adrenal glands to exhaustion. Initially the stress hormones are elevated, and then they crash to very low levels when adrenal exhaustion sets in. If untreated, Adrenal Exhaustion will lead to seriously declining physical health. Many (former) SSRI-AntiDepressant users reported fatigue as a long term side-effect or were diagnosed with "Chronigue Fatigue Syndrome." People suffering from stress are generally diagnosed with this disorder. Symptoms range from simple exhaustion to much more complex problems that are secondary to excessive output of adrenal hormones in the bloodstream, leading to Adrenal Exhaustion. Unlike the other hormones, it takes a long time before the Adrenal Glands have their adrenaline levels restored.
An increase in serotonin levels also produces rushes of insulin, dropping sugar levels and chemically inducing hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) in this way. Heightened insulin levels are also closely linked with an increase of hormones known as androgens, which is linked with female hirsutism (male hair growth patterns) and PCOS – Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome). Furthermore it has been established that too much serotonin damages blood vessels, particularly in the lungs, and may also harm heart valves. This would be due to the fact that serotonin is a powerful vasoconstrictor.
What does this mean and how to treat
Melatonin levels must be in a good balance with their Yang partner Serotonin. It seems in a hyper stimulated society that elevated Serotonin levels seem to be a predominant factor. So Increasing melatonin and decreasing serotonin and corresponding stress hormones may be the way forward.
As melatonin levels reach a peak between 11 PM and 2 AM, and then drop dramatically when a new day dawns, you should get to bed early and turn off the lights to ensure that you are in deep sleep between 11PM and 2 AM, and that there is enough dark time for the full production of Melatonin to take place, and there is complete darkness in the room that you sleep in.
Together with the Pituitary Gland, the pineal gland has the next highest blood circulation after the kidneys. As the pineal gland is dependant and nourished by a good blood supply, inversions that bring blood flow to the head are beneficial.
It is not protected by the blood-brain barrier and therefore the Pineal gland is fragile to any substance entering the bloodstream. It is, for instance, very sensitive to fluoride which is put into most of Australia’s tap water systems. A water filter that removes fluoride will be helpful.
How Can I Influence my Melatonin Levels?
Melatonin exists in small quantities in many plant species, it may be helpful to include them in your diet : oats, sweet corn, rice, ginger, tomatoes, bananas and barley. Intake of other foods such as kelp, soy beans, pumpkin seeds, water melon seeds, almonds, peanuts, yeast, malt, and milk.
Lower food intake ensures normal melatonin levels. Research shows that old mice given less food have healthy pineal glands like those of young mice, and can regulate melatonin production. Their melatonin levels are 80 percent of those found in young mice, compared to 40 percent for old mice without food restriction.
Research shows that melatonin production is higher in women who meditate. Physical exercise during the day increases melatonin levels, while night exercises have the opposite effect. Therefore, it is advisable to eat less, meditate, exercise and work during daylight hours.
The Pineal Gland is sensitive to electromagnetic fields (EMF), thus, electromagnetic waves from computer monitors, cellular phones, microwave ovens, and high voltage lines, suppress the activity of the Pineal Gland and reduce melatonin production. EMF also affects serotonin production. So ensure you turn off your mobile phone and all electrical appliances via the electrical output before you go to bed, and reduce the amount of time you spend talking on your mobile, and how often you use your microwave. Move away from high voltage lines!
Another factor involved in affecting the Pineal Gland can be excessive high or even toxic levels of an SSRI-AntiDepressant in the bloodstream. Certain individuals have a metabolic deficiency in the metabolism of anti-depressant medication named the cytochrome P-450 enzyme which clears out any build up of SSRI’s. Grapefruit juice can help to stimulate this pathway in the liver to promote detoxification via this pathway.