Study confirms melatonin helps burn calories and curbs weight gain

May 10, 2018, University of Granada
Prof. Ahmad Agil Abdalla, the principal investigator of the project. Credit: University of Granada

Researchers from the University of Granada, University Hospital La Paz (Madrid) and the University of Texas (USA) have identified a new molecular mechanism underlying the anti-obesity effects of the chronic administration of melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone released by the pineal gland overnight. Previous studies conducted by numerous research teams, including the UGR team behind the present study, showed that melatonin possesses anti-obesity effects.

However, although the uses of melatonin for control have already been demonstrated, this new study, recently published in the Journal of Pineal Research, determined the specific triggered by its chronic administration. In order to conduct the study, a group of diabetic fatty rats were treated with melatonin.

According to Ahmad Agil Abdalla, Full Professor at the Department of Pharmacology of the University of Granada and the main author of the study, the results were rather surprising. Firstly, melatonin increased the brown adipose tissue (BAT) mass of the treated animals (the amount of "good fat" that uses up energy rather than storing it), which in turn reduced dangerous white visceral fat in the abdominal region. Secondly, it also had a positive impact on the thermogenic activity of their bodies and their mitochondrial mass and function. Seeing as thermogenesis is a process during which the body burns calories to produce heat and mitochondria are the organelles involved in this process, the study effectively demonstrates that melatonin does indeed help to curb weight gain.

The study comes at the right time, considering the enormous impact currently exerted by obesity on public health and given that it is responsible for approximately 3 million deaths every year. The countries with the highest obesity rates include the United States, where over 30 per cent of the population is obese, and countries in the Persian Gulf region, where the obesity rate is between 31 and 35 per cent. A gradual but steady rise in obesity is also occurring in Spain, where the rate has now reached 27 per cent of the population.

Factors involved in weight-loss

Previous studies carried out by international research groups, including the UGR team, have already demonstrated the powerful anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-obesity effects of melatonin. With respect to its anti-obesity effects, melatonin tackles excess weight on two levels (targets). On one hand, it browns the white subcutaneous fat and turns it into beige fat, thus creating more tissue that turns fat into energy rather than storing it. On the other hand, it improves the thermogenic capacity of the mitochondria in the existing by boosting the levels of the protein UCP1, which puts the calorie burning mechanism into motion.

According to Prof. Agil, melatonin had these effects in rats even when other factors, like diet or the amount of physical exertion, were held equal. In humans, however, he recommends melatonin treatment as a complementary weight loss strategy alongside an energy restricted diet and increased energy output in the form of physical activity. He also adds that we should do exercise in cold environments, as cold temperatures trigger thermogenesis, which in turn increases the calorie expenditure we can achieve.

Building on the results of this study, the researchers are currently conducting clinical trials involving melatonin agonists. The team, led by Prof. Agil as principal investigator, emphasise the need for more public and private funding in this area, and are currently seeking to collaborate with companies interested in helping them to commercialise their findings. The ultimate goal of the team is to explore the potential applications of for the treatment of human obesity.

Explore further: Melatonin stimulates appearance of 'beige fat' that can burn calories instead of storing them

More information: Gumersindo Fernández Vázquez et al. Melatonin increases brown adipose tissue mass and function in Zücker diabetic fatty rats: implications for obesity control, Journal of Pineal Research (2018). DOI: 10.1111/jpi.12472

Related Stories

Melatonin stimulates appearance of 'beige fat' that can burn calories instead of storing them

September 25, 2013
Melatonin is a natural hormone segregated by the body and melatonin levels generally increase in the dark at night. It is also found in fruit and vegetables like mustard, Goji berries, almonds, sunflower seeds, cardamom, ...

Melatonin may help treat blood cancers

September 1, 2017
Researchers have examined the potential benefits of melatonin, a hormone made by a small gland in the brain, for treating blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma. They point to evidence that melatonin boosts the immune ...

Melatonin may protect the small intestine from oral radiation treatment in rats

April 12, 2017
Oral melatonin can protect the small intestine in rats subjected to radiotherapy of the tongue, according to a study published April 12, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Germaine Escames from Universidad de Granada, ...

Melatonin may help you sleep

August 7, 2017
Dear Mayo Clinic: Can melatonin supplements help insomnia? What are the side effects of melatonin supplements?

Could melatonin be the key to healthy aging?

January 10, 2018
A new British Journal of Pharmacology review highlights the role of melatonin—a hormone that is produced at night—in regulating sleep and the body's biological, or circadian, clock. Research suggests that melatonin treatments ...

Jet lag drug may aid cancer patients

September 15, 2017
Painful side effects from cancer medicines could be tackled with a drug that eases the effects of jet lag, research suggests.

Recommended for you

New findings cast light on lymphatic system, key player in human health

October 16, 2018
Scientists at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation have broken new ground in understanding how the lymphatic system works, potentially opening the door for future therapies.

Age-related increase in estrogen may cause common men's hernia

October 16, 2018
An age-related increase in estrogen may be the culprit behind inguinal hernias, a condition common among elderly men that often requires corrective surgery, according to a Northwestern Medicine study was published Oct. 15 ...

New model suggests cuffless, non-invasive blood pressure monitoring possible using pulse waves

October 16, 2018
A large team of researchers from several institutions in China and the U.S. has developed a model that suggests it should be possible to create a cuffless, non-invasive blood pressure monitor based on measuring pulse waves. ...

Income and wealth affect the mental health of Australians, study shows

October 16, 2018
Australians who have higher incomes and greater wealth are more likely to experience better mental health throughout their lives, new research led by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre has found.

Discovery of inner ear function may improve diagnosis of hearing impairment

October 15, 2018
Results from a research study published in Nature Communications show how the inner ear processes speech, something that has until now been unknown. The authors of the report include researchers from Linköping University, ...

Obesity linked to increased risk of early-onset colorectal cancer

October 12, 2018
Women who are overweight or obese have up to twice the risk of developing colorectal cancer before age 50 as women who have what is considered a normal body mass index (BMI), according to new research led by Washington University ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.