Melatonin, Meditation, Yoga, and Obesity

Meditation at night increases melatonin

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.

7 Responses to “Melatonin, Meditation, Yoga, and Obesity”

  1. Verna April 26, 2011 at 7:08 am #

    Thank you for this new study on the relationship with one’s mind through Meditation. I believe this could be the answer expecially with depression, because meditation would give the person freedom from negative thoughts while obtaining a state of stillness. As for obese people, this could allow them to bring themselves to another place and away from thinking and the emotional eating aspects that bring on more weight.

    • admin May 3, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

      Thanks for posting Verna. I agree that meditation can offer health benefits to many people. What’s hard is to figure out which approach for which person. Meditation, like neuroscience, is such an untapped area of research.

  2. the yoga nurse April 30, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

    fascinating…so glad i found u doc. i have years of experience with yoga as an adjunct therapy for literally all areas of clinical practice. melatonin info is enlightening as are many of yr articles that i am discovering. will link to you on twitter too!

    • admin May 3, 2011 at 1:18 pm #

      Thanks! By the way you also have s nice website.

  3. Shiva Steve Ordog May 3, 2011 at 8:05 am #

    Not only does yoga regulate the pineal gland but all of the endocrine glands. Yoga routines can be tailored to work on individual glands. For example, asanas that provide pressure on the manipura chakra (3rd) energize the plexus that controls the liver and adrenals. This is particularly helpful in metabolism and can be useful in working on diabetes.
    Shiva Steve

    • admin May 3, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

      Over the next year I am trying to track down the research on meditations impact on both neurotransmitters and endocrine function. It’s a fairly spread out field.
      thanks for posting

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