What does melatonin have to do with COVID-19?

As with any unprecedented or crisis situation we tend to only hear about the extremely negative experiences.

This is no different when it comes to COVID-19, the cases we hear about are often the most severe and the media likes to emphasise the mortality associated with this pandemic. However, it is important to bear in mind that the current best estimate is that about 81% of people with COVID-19 have mild disease and never require hospitalisation.

At this point there is still so much we don’t know but we are also accumulating an exponential amount of knowledge, hopefully propelling us in the right direction of finding a way to treat, test and prevent the virus. As I sift through the medical journals, I notice that anything written before March 15th I am already deeming as old news! Just another sign of the times we are living in. However, we have a lot of valuable information that is worth building on from China and other parts of the world, and I wish to share some of the major findings.

A team of German scientists led by Wölfel et al. proposes that this virus has the ability to facilitate viral entry into all cell types, making the COVID-19 a thousand times more transmissible than the SARS coronavirus from 2003, even though they are in the same family of Corona viruses.

Corona viruses are known for causing respiratory diseases with symptoms ranging from common colds to pneumonia.  The SARS-CoV or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome epidemic of 2003 infected over 8000 people worldwide in 8 months, with a 10% mortality rate.

What causes people to get seriously ill from This new COVID-19?

A minority of people develop Acute Respiratory Distress syndrome (ARDS) and acute lung injury (ALI), the vast majority of deaths from COVID-19 are due to ARDS/ALI.

Without getting too technical I need to explain the mechanisms behind this in order for this to make sense, so please stay with me. Inflammasomes are an integral part of our innate immune system, and they sense pathogens and release proinflammatory cytokines interleukin (IL)‑1β and IL‑18.  Recently, in COVID-19 the NLRP3 inflammasome has been identified as key to the induction of ADRS/ALI (remember this is the main cause of death in COVID-19)

Reducing the NLRP3 inflammasome could prove significant in reducing people entering into the ICU or becoming critical in any way.

Melatonin and NLRP3

So what does melatonin have to do with COVID-19? Melatonin has the ability to INHIBIT NLRP3 inflammasome.

This means that if a patient, regardless of age, has adequate melatonin, the infectiousness of COVID-19 could be greatly reduced, and the chances of developing ARDS/ALI significantly diminished.

Melatonin could be the reason why children under the age of 9 seldom exhibit severe symptoms. In fact, children may exhibit mild or even no symptoms at all, even though they have been infected by the coronavirus.

Young children have extremely high melatonin levels, compared to adults. Children between the ages of 1 to 5 had peak melatonin at 325 pg/ml, while those between the ages of 5 to 11 already declined to 133 pg/ml.

COVID-19 fatality rate by age  

COVID-19 Fatality rate by Age

{Source: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/coronavirus-age-sex-demographics/]

How to increase melatonin naturally

Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep–wake cycle and therefore we know a lot about this hormone and how to increase it to achieve better sleep. Here are steps to increase your body’s melatonin levels naturally

  • Expose yourself to sunlight, especially in the morning but any time of day is beneficial.
  • Serotonin is the precursor to melatonin and 90% of serotonin is produced by the gut, so looking after your gut is a major component in the creation of melatonin. Feeding the good bacteria with pre and probiotics have proven beneficial in improving gut function and the immune system
  • Reduce your exposure to blue light at least 2-3 hours before bed. Blue light is emitted from smart phones, TVs, computers, laptops and tablets. If this is not possible, consider using blue-blocking glasses or installing an app that filters the blue/green wavelength at night. Any artificial light can trick our brains into believing it is still day, so turn down the lights at night.
  • Increase melatonin rich foods. The content of melatonin is higher in eggs and fish than that found in meat in animal foods. Whilst in plantbased foods, the highest levels of melatonin are found in nuts, some cereals, germinated legumes and seeds. Other good sources of melatonin are mushrooms, tart cherries, corn, asparagus, tomatoes, pomegranate, olives, grapes, broccoli and cucumber

 

For a higher dose and a more therapeutic effect, melatonin can be purchased over the counter in some countries, but in Australia it can only be obtained with a script from your doctor.

Author: Pernille Jensen / The Gut Co. 

Pernille Jensen is a Naturopath and Clinical Nutritionist with over 10 years of experience. Pernille has dedicated her life to researching gut issues, as she truly believes everything begins in the gut; disease as well as health. 

——

References

Wu Z, McGoogan JM, Characteristics of and important lessons from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak in China: summary of a report of 72 314 cases from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.JAMA. 2020; (published online Feb 24.)DOI:10.1001/jama.2020.2648

http://www.chinaxiv.org/abs/202002.00004 

Clinical presentation and virological assessment of hospitalized cases of coronavirus disease 2019 in a travel-associated transmission cluster https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.05.20030502v1.full.pdf

A furin cleavage site was discovered in the S protein of the 2019 novel coronavirus  https://www.researchgate.net/publication/338804501_A_furin_cleavage_site_was_discovered_in_the_S_protein_of_the_2019_novel_coronavirus 

Detection of SARS-CoV-2 in Different Types of Clinical Specimens | Global Health | JAMA | JAMA Network https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2762997

A Decade After SARS: Strategies for Controlling Emerging Coronaviruses – PubMed https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24217413-a-decade-after-sars-strategies-for-controlling-emerging-coronaviruses/

Identification of a Novel Coronavirus in Patients With Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome – PubMed https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12690091-identification-of-a-novel-coronavirus-in-patients-with-severe-acute-respiratory-syndrome/

Regulation of the NLRP3 inflammasome and macrophage pyroptosis by the p38 MAPK signaling pathway in a mouse model of acute lung injury https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6172370/

An NLRP3 inflammasome-triggered cytokine storm contributes to Streptococcal toxic shock-like syndrome (STSLS)  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6553798/ 

[40] Critical role for the NLRP3 inflammasome during acute lung injury  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4061751/ 

Fall in Nocturnal Serum Melatonin During Prepuberty and Pubescence – PubMed https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6141425-fall-in-nocturnal-serum-melatonin-during-prepuberty-and-pubescence/

XIAO Meng et al., Dietary Sources and Bioactivities of Melatonin, Nutrients 2017 Apr; 9(4): 367. doi: 10.3390/nu9040367 or https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5409706/