Through a series of enzyme-catalyzed reactions, tryptophan is partially converted to 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), which is partially converted to serotonin, which is partially converted to melatonin. The fact that melatonin can be used for treating insomnia is especially relevant to the elderly.
The authors cite research showing that aging is characterized by a progressive deterioration of circadian rhythms, due at least in part to degenerative changes in the SCN and the pineal gland, which result in diminished melatonin production.
Surprisingly, melatonin is found in large quantities in the gastrointestinal tract, but its role there is largely unknown. The authors cite research showing that melatonin is widely circulated throughout the body, and its concentration in the GI tract may be 400 times higher than in the pineal gland. When the SCN is stimulated by daylight signals from the retina, it instructs the pineal gland to suppress melatonin production (though not entirely).

Consequently, many physicians recommend supplemental melatonin for relieving the symptoms of this condition. They go on to cite studies showing that, in AD patients, the biological clock (SCN) is severely impaired, and the resultant degree of impairment of melatonin secretion is related to the severity of the mental impairment caused by the disease. Melatonin has also been suggested to have beneficial effects on memory in AD, possibly through protection against oxidative stress and neuroprotective capabilities. In fact, since melatonin levels in the gut remain the same even after removal of the pineal gland, the authors postulate that this hormone is actually being produced somewhere in the GI tract.
The authors present evidence that melatonin provides protection to the gastric mucosa, aids in healing of chronic gastric ulcers, and provides protection against pancreatitis via antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. 5-Hydroxytryptophan is a more potent in vitro hydroxyl radical scavenger than melatonin or vitamin C.

Studies have shown that melatonin is effective in phase-shifting human circadian rhythms either forward or backward, giving long-distance travelers welcome relief from both the physical and psychological effects of jet lag.
This is probably because a general disruption of circadian rhythms associated with declining melatonin production is characteristic of the aging process. Although there is no clear answer as to why this occurs, many researchers are coming to believe that declining melatonin levels may play a significant role.

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