Melatonin and metabolic regulation: a review
Human life expectancy has increased over the past 50 years due to scientific and medical advances and higher food availability. However, overweight and obesity affect more than 50% of adults and 15% of infants and adolescents. There has also been a marked increase in the prevalence of metabolic syndrome in recent decades, which has been associated with a reduction in nocturnal pineal production of melatonin with aging and an increased risk of coronary diseases, type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) and death. Melatonin is currently under intensive investigation in experimental animal models of diabetes, obesity and MS at pharmacological doses (between 5 and 20 mg kg−1 body weight), demonstrating its capacity to ameliorate the total metabolic profile and its potential as an alternative to conventional drug therapies for the disorders associated with the MS, i.e. elevated systolic blood pressure, and impairment of glucose homeostasis, plasma lipid profile, inflammation, oxidative stress, and increased body weight. An especially significant finding is the induction by melatonin of white adipose tissue browning, which may be related to its effects against oxidative stress, uncoupling the mitochondrial bioenergetic process by enhancing the expression of uncoupled-protein-1 (UCP-1), which has been related to body weight reduction in experimental animals. Further research is required to improve knowledge of this mechanism. Clinical studies are needed with the administration of pharmacological melatonin doses, because the dose has ranged between 0.050 and 0.16 mg kg−1 bw in most studies to date. Melatonin is a natural phytochemical, and it is also important to test its beneficial metabolic effects when consumed in functional foods.