The mitochondria are the energy-producing powerplants in cells that have numerous essential functions. They need plenty of vitamin D, which we get from the sun, but they also require melatonin, a substance that we synthesize in response to nightfall. Around the clock, these two compounds complement each other in protecting the mitochondria and the cells. But ageing and our modern lifestyle may reduce the body’s ability to produce the two substances and this may lead to insomnia and a host of different diseases such as infections, type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, dementia, and cancer. Of course, older people are more vulnerable. However, with supplements it is possible to compensate for the reduced endogenous synthesis of melatonin and vitamin D, according to an article that is published in The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
All the way through evolution, vitamin D and melatonin have played a key role in the way cells thrive and defend themselves. Our main source of vitamin D is the sun, whereas the darkness at nightfall initiates our synthesis of melatonin. In other words, the body’s synthesis of vitamin D and melatonin are inversely correlated with daylight exposure and the astronomical day. Vitamin D is primarily known for its role in the body’s uptake and utilization of calcium and phosphorous, whereas melatonin is known for its ability to regulate our circadian rhythm and quality of sleep. Over the past decades, however, science has found that the two compounds have a host of other essential functions that are related to the cellular mitochondria, which are microscopic, bean-shaped powerplants that generate energy in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) inside cells. The mitochondria also handle many other vital functions such as cell division, calcium signaling, monitoring of growth, and programmed self-destruction of cells (apoptosis).
Lack of vitamin D and melatonin is therefore linked to different types of cellular dysfunction, which can lead to sleep disturbances, acute infections, and many other chronic illnesses like atherosclerosis, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, neurological disorders, kidney disease, bone diseases, and cancer. Many diseases today are regarded as mitochondrial diseases and include such things as migraines, fibromyalgia, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer. It is therefore vitally important to make sure that the mitochondria have ideal conditions at all times.
Facts about mitochondria
Ageing decreases the synthesis of vitamin D and melatonin
We synthesize vitamin D in our skin with help from sunlight and a cholesterol precursor that we have in our skin. However, at our latitudes this synthesis is only possible during the summer period where the sun sits sufficiently high in the sky. Excess vitamin D is stored in the liver for the body to use in the winter period. In old thin skin, the vitamin D synthesis is decreased. Ageing also slows down the enzyme processes needed to convert the inactive form of vitamin D (cholecalciferol) that we make from sunlight and get from supplements into the active form that is needed by cells
Melatonin is primarily produced in the pineal gland. There is a direct connection from this gland to the retina of the eye. That way, daylight exposure stops the melatonin release, while darkness in the evening gets it going. Our pineal gland begins to calcify with age, causing our endogenous production of melatonin to decrease. A 60-year-old person therefore only produces around half as much melatonin as someone in his 20s.
Lack of vitamin D and melatonin results in oxidative stress and many diseases
Oxidative stress is a major cause of most chronic ailments. It is an imbalance between free radicals and protective antioxidants.
Free radicals are highly reactive oxygen molecules that are both essential and lethal. They are natural byproducts of the mitochondrial energy turnover and play an essential role in the immune system and in other cellular functions. But free radicals must be kept on a tight leash to prevent them from carrying out other tasks than those that have been specifically assigned to them. Otherwise, they can cause cellular damage and oxidative stress in the body. Oxidative stress sets the stage for malfunctioning mitochondria and chronic inflammation, which is the common thread in most chronic diseases.
Vitamin D helps boost the immune defense and counteract chronic inflammation that causes oxidative stress. Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant that protects mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and other cell constituents against oxidative stress. Melatonin is also able to repair cellular damage in our sleep.
Vitamin D and melatonin also have different types of influence on the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone-system (RAAS), which is a function that controls blood pressure and fluid balance. Vitamin D and melatonin help cells perform an internal cleansing process called autophagy, and they also help cells carry out apoptosis (programmed self-destruction) when they are worn out or have flaws that can potentially turn them into cancer cells.
Vitamin D and melatonin therefore work in synergy to help the mitochondria function optimally and that is a vital precondition of healthy cells.
Lack of vitamin D may be a result of:
Lack of melatonin may be a result of:
Supplementation with vitamin D and melatonin
Most normal vitamin pills contain too little vitamin D. It takes quite a lot of the nutrient to reach the optimal amount in the blood, which is around 50 nmol/L.
Strong vitamin D supplements (20-80 micrograms) are available on the market. The actual need for vitamin D is individual and depends on factors such as sun exposure levels, age, skin type, BMI, and chronic diseases like diabetes. Vitamin D is a lipid-soluble nutrient. The highest degree of bioavailability is obtained with vitamin D in oil-filled capsules.
Feres José Mocayar et al. Daily and seasonal mitochondrial protection: Unraveling common possible mechanism involving vitamin D and melatonin. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. 2020
Ricca C et al. Vitamin D Receptor Is Necessary for Mitochondrial Function and Cell Health. Int Mol Sci 2018
Alice Meläo. Researchers Review Melatonin´s Therapeutic Potential for Mitochondrial Dysfunction-related diseases. Mitochondrial Disease News. 2017
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