Most people know melatonin for sleep support, but few know melatonin is helpful for the immune system, especially with viral infection. It turns out, melatonin actually helps fight viral infection by solving problems inherent to what is known as a cytokine storm–the same cytokine storm associated with Covid. Cytokines are chemical messengers that activate immune responses such as fever, fatigue, joint pain, and muscle aches. This immune reaction, while trying to fight infection, may damage tissue in the process. Melatonin keeps the immune cells healthy in the midst of the cytokine storm.(1)
What is a Cytokine Storm?
To understand just how this is done, let’s take a look at the science behind a cytokine storm and how immune cell metabolism changes with this inflammation. As your immune system fights infection, cytokines, or cell signals, alert immune cells, especially macrophages and monocytes. Macrophages are the “garbage men” of the immune system gobbling up weird, abnormal cells, and viral and bacterial-infected cells. Monocytes are the precursors or parent cells to macrophages and these both patrol tissue and rapidly increase with the presence of infection.
A cytokine storm is a giant inflammatory response signaled by the body’s own immune system. A gigantic production of inflammatory-inducing cytokines is made. An immune infection, while trying to eliminate a pathogen, actually creates a lot of free radical damage along with that inflammatory signaling. With a cytokine storm, production of these unfortunate damaging free radicals is in excess. Over 20 different cytokines have been identified in Covid-19 infections.(2) The free radical damage plagues any tissue this virus infects and is a huge part of the infection. It may be the reason for “long-covid”.
Free Radical Damage – The Warburg Effect
Free radicals are highly reactive and unstable molecules which damage tissue, mess up DNA production, and limit a normal cell’s ability to produce energy. This stress makes the cell have to change its way of living – shifting to a process called the Warburg effect (or lactic acid fermentation). The reason we breathe oxygen is to make energy in our cells. With the Warburg effect, the cell must now make energy through anaerobic (non-oxygen using) means and while it produces energy, it makes a ton of even more free radicals, further damaging tissue and causing serious decline. This is seriously bad news for the cell.
This Warburg Effect, while notable in the Covid infections, has been observed before. Certain cancerous tumors that are especially rapidly growing, take on this metabolic shift. A rapidly growing cancerous tumor does not utilize oxygen for its metabolism like normal cells – that is part of the reason such tumors are so detrimental. Their cancerous cells utilize lactic acid fermentation, grow quickly, and outcompete neighboring tissue. To switch a cancer cell out of this metabolism and into the regular cellular respiration, melatonin is utilized.(3) Melatonin rescues the cancer cell by pushing the biochemistry back to normal, aerobic cell metabolism, thereby stopping the rapid, toxic cell division of the tumor.
Adjunctive cancer therapies will dose melatonin in the 10-20 mg range to improve cell health with positive results. For viral infections including Covid-19, these therapies have been newly adopted by doctors. Note – a 10-20 mg dose of melatonin WILL make you sleep. Usually, this dosing is made with the caveat that the person needs to have the ability to sleep in as long as they need. So, if you take 10-20 mg of melatonin and need to wake up early and drive a car, this is very dangerous. However, even dosages in the 1-6 mg range should be effective to support the macrophages while not making you dangerously groggy.
Please always work with an informed healthcare provider when processing newly applied therapies to yourself. Peoples Rx has many qualified practitioners if you need help. If you are taking other medications or don’t know how you will respond to melatonin, the staff at Peoples Rx can assist you. Also, feel free to contact our clinic at 512-219-8600 for appointment information.
Melatonin holds amazing promise for supporting immune health. Affordable, accessible, and with few interactions, it is a welcomed tool during a time when supporting overall health and immune reactions is vital.
If you have comments and/or questions about this blog, email us at email@example.com.
Amy Nelson, ND* received her Naturopathic Doctorate from the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, OR where she studied nutrition, homeopathy, herbal and functional medicine. In addition, Dr. Nelson was the Associate at The IBS Treatment Center in Santa Monica where she treated irritable bowel syndrome and complex food allergies. Dr. Nelson utilizes her experience in natural medicine to address female and male hormonal imbalances, mental health, and digestive disorders. Amy is available for consultation at Peoples Lakeline.
*Although licensed in other states, Naturopathic Doctors are not currently licensed in Texas.
- Reiter RJ, Sharma R, Ma Q, Dominquez-Rodriguez A, Marik PE, Abreu-Gonzalez P. Melatonin Inhibits COVID-19-induced Cytokine Storm by Reversing Aerobic Glycolysis in Immune Cells: A Mechanistic Analysis. Med Drug Discov. 2020 Jun;6:100044. doi: 10.1016/j.medidd.2020.100044. Epub 2020 May 11. PMID: 32395713; PMCID: PMC7211589.
- Coperchini F, Chiovato L, Croce L, Magri F, Rotondi M. The cytokine storm in COVID-19: An overview of the involvement of the chemokine/chemokine-receptor system. Cytokine Growth Factor Rev. 2020 Jun;53:25-32. doi: 10.1016/j.cytogfr.2020.05.003. Epub 2020 May 11. PMID: 32446778; PMCID: PMC7211650.
- Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of cancer. Oncotarget. 2017;8(24):39896-39921. doi:10.18632/oncotarget.16379).