A new study suggests that melatonin supplements are successful in strengthening bones in old rats and might do the same for humans. The leader of the research team, Professor Faleh Tamimi of Montreal-based McGill University, said that working with elderly rats was a nuisance since they get sick easily but any research dealing with osteoporosis cannot be done without these animals.
Bones are affected mostly by circadian rhythms. Cells that break down bones are active during the night, while cells building up bone mass do their work during the day. As people grow older their sleep quality decreases, which means that the break-down process increases and bones are broken down faster, Tamimi explained.
However, previous research has indicated that melatonin might play a part in enhancing sleep quality and improving overall circadian rhythms. This antioxidant molecule, which is produced by the pineal gland, serves as a biological clock synchroniser. Therefore, scientists started thinking that melatonin supplements might slow down bone loss in rats.
The research was conducted at the University of Madrid by a team of Canadian and Spanish scientists. Rats that were 22 months old (equivalent to 60 human years) were given melatonin supplements dissolved in water. This went on for ten weeks, which would be six years for a human. Later, hip bones were compared for bone strength and density.
The results were promising. Rats that were given melatonin supplements had better bone volume and density. Moreover, breaking the bones of the experiment group was harder in comparison to the control group animals. These results suggest that melatonin may be an effective solution for osteoporosis in humans.
Tamimi cautioned that the experiment was still at an early stage so similar conclusions cannot be made about human bone health. The key finding of the study will be whether melatonin simply prevents or actually reverses the bone break-down process, Tamimi added.