Melatonin – what a fascinating neurotransmitter! It’s produced in the pineal gland (Descartes famous seat of the soul - Descartes and the Pineal Gland). It’s production is increased in darkness. It has been linked to people’s sleep cycle, and over the past several years it has been considered to be a possible effective treatment for certain forms of depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder. It can offer protection from such things as radiation and cancer (from it’s antioxidant capabilities). However, and most importantly for those people trying to lose weight, it may increase our basal metabolic rate.
What makes this interesting for the meditator and yogi is that it is clear that melatonin levels, which increase in darkness, also increase immediately after meditation and certain forms of yoga, suggesting that we have ways to adjust our melatonin levels, and indirectly our basal metabolic rate, by manipulating such things as our exposure to light, our yoga practice and our mediation practice. There is even a a theory (referenced below) that increased increased light exposure in our modern world may be decreasing our total melatonin level, resulting in a lower metabolic rate and subsequent increased weight – giving new significance to the “Early to bed , early to rise, make a man healthy, wealthy and wise”.
But does melatonin help people lose weight? At least in animal models, it can be associated with decreased weight and improvement in diabetic risk factors, and and some of these benefits seem to be applicable to humans.
Effectively what this means is that there is a theoretical possibility that by decreasing our total exposure to light, and increasing our yoga and our meditation practices we would be able to naturally increase our metabolic rate and potentially decrease our weight.
Please don’t get me wrong; I am not suggesting that people rush out and buy melatonin pills in order to lose weight. I am not an advocate of any silver bullets for weight loss, and even if there is one, I would not generally advocate it’s use. What I am suggesting is that the adoption of healthy habits, such as yoga and meditation may at a neurotransmitter’s level give us another tool to achieve a healthy weight. By minimizing some of our evening light exposure, doing more yoga during the day and meditating in the evening some of us may be able to make relatively easy habitual changes that could have a subtle, but long-term significant improvement to our weight. No surprise here, but it’s always nice when science and commonsense overlap.
See the references below for more information.
Detection of nighttime melatonin level in Chinese Original Quiet Sitting. J Formos Med Assoc. 2010 Oct;109(10):694-701.
Effects of Hatha yoga and Omkar meditation on cardiorespiratory performance,psychologic profile, and melatonin secretion. J Altern Complement Med. 2004 Apr;10(2):261-8.
The effects of long meditation on plasma melatonin and blood serotonin. Med Sci Monit. 2004 Mar;10(3):CR96-101.
Melatonin and the metabolic syndrome: physiopathologic and therapeutical implications. Neuroendocrinology. 2011;93(3):133-42.
Beneficial effects of melatonin on obesity and lipid profile in young Zucker diabetic fatty rats. J Pineal Res. 2011 Mar;50(2):207-12.
Melatonin effect on plasma adiponectin, leptin, insulin, glucose, triglycerides and cholesterol in normal and high fat-fed rats.J Pineal Res. 2010 Nov;49(4):342-8.
Significance and application of melatonin in the regulation of brown adipose tissue metabolism: relation to human obesity. Obes Rev. 2011 Mar;12(3):167-88.