Do you ever wonder if our ancestors felt the same effects of seasonal change as we do. As they eased into Autumn, did they notice a change in their sleep schedule? Mood? Appetite? Sex drive? Skin? If so, what did they attribute these changes to? The lack of food? Warmth? Sunlight? 

autumn sunsetFrom September 22 (autumn equinox) to December 21 (winter solstice), we lose around three minutes of sunlight each day.

Three minutes may seem insignificant, but any lack of sunlight dramatically affects our body’s natural production of serotonin and melatonin. An imbalance of these hormones can lead to unwanted breakouts, premature aging, and more severe conditions such as psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, seborrheic eczema. On the flip side, when these hormones are balanced, clear, radiant, healthy skin emerges.

About serotonin and melatonin:

What is Serotonin?

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter hormone (which is actually a precursor to melatonin) that’s produced by the brain and the intestines. It’s medically referred to as 5-hydroxytryptamine. Serotonin plays a role in regulating our mood, appetite, sleep, digestion, and skin health.

The body makes serotonin naturally by using sunlight. The light enters our eyes and activates the parts of our retina that signal our brain to produce serotonin. 

foods to help support serotonin productionNatural ways to support healthy serotonin production:

  • Exercise– motor activity increases serotonin neurons’ firing rates, which results in increased synthesis and release of serotonin.
  • Tryptophan– is an amino acid that gets converted to serotonin in our brain. Tryptophan is found primarily in high-protein foods, including free-range turkey and wild-caught salmon. Chickpeas, bananas, and oats are also good sources of tryptophan. The US Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is 250-425 tryptophan milligrams per day (but always discuss your personal diet and how much of each nutrient you need with your physician, dietitian, or licensed nutritionist)
  • Balanced gut microbes – scientists have found that intestinal bacteria help to produce serotonin. The greatest amount of the body’s supply of serotonin is found in the intestines and the lining of the stomach. Its presence helps move food through our intestines.
  • Aromatherapy– inhaling aromas like cedarwood triggers the release of serotonin in the brain, which converts to melatonin. This essential oil is known for its soothing qualities and encourages relaxation.
  • Lightbox therapy-as a supplement to natural sunlight, especially in the winter, a lightbox can be used. It’s essential to make sure the lightbox is safe and effective. The Center for Environmental Therapeutics is dedicated to education and research on safe environmental therapies. 
  • Far infrared therapy– the gentle heat of far infrared light is known to increase serotonin in the skin, which is then circulated throughout the body.

What is melatonin?

Melatonin is another hormone our body naturally produces. It is made in the mainly “in the pineal gland and a small portion in the retina. It can be found in the skin as well as in the body and is stimulated by darkness. Melatonin (not to be confused with melanin) is our primary skin protectant – blocking free radicals, protecting our collagen, and repairing oxidative damage to the skin.

melatoninOur bodies require serotonin to produce melatonin. Our pineal gland, located deep in our brain, chemically alters serotonin to make melatonin. Our body’s sleep-wake cycle is affected by how much light we take in through our eyes, and the related production of these hormones. That’s why it’s recommended to dim the lights as we approach bedtime and avoid exposure to the green and blue-toned light that smartphones, computers, smartphones, and TV monitors produce. The dim lights activate our melatonin for a restful sleep.

Other ways to increase melatonin production is through:

  • Food- Tart cherries, goji berries, oily fish, and nuts like pistachios and almonds contain melatonin.
  • Dietary supplements– The Sleep Foundation asserts, “it’s best to start a melatonin supplement with the lowest recommended melatonin dosage for your age. From there, you can gradually increase your dosage until you find a dose that helps you fall asleep without causing any side effects. A safe starting dose for adults is between 0.5 milligram and 5 milligrams of melatonin. Older adults may find lower doses, starting with 0.1 milligrams, to be safe and effective. Children should not take melatonin unless recommended by a physician,” and adults should consult with their physician to determine the right amount for their personal needs.
  • Meditation– Meditating can help relax the muscles and joints, reduce anxiety, and lower nervous system stimulation, which helps promote melatonin release.
  • Aromatherapy– A research study The effect of aromatherapy with lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) on serum melatonin levels found that “blood melatonin levels significantly increased in the total population after the intervention with aromatherapy.”
  • Topical products– Applying melatonin topically can trigger our skin into antioxidant behavior that would otherwise occur during sleep. Melatonin works synergistically with antioxidants such as Vitamin C, beta carotene, and other Pro Vitamin A carotenoid antioxidants. It also works well with cross-linked forms of hyaluronic acid in improving skin elasticity. Caution: Using topical melatonin on your skin may may darken the skin. Those treating hyperpigmentation may want to skip using melatonin topically.

How serotonin and melatonin affect the “Brain-Skin Connection”

stressed skinSince serotonin contributes to sufficient sleep and balanced moods, we’re less likely to experience stress hormone surges that can lead to breakouts and cause skin cell damage. Research shows that abnormal serotonin receptors may exacerbate psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, and seborrheic eczema – just further evidence that a balanced brain means balanced skin. The brain—skin connection helps explain why emotional and mental stress can cause unwanted skin conditions.

At night, our skin converts from a mode of protection into repair. Somatotropin or human growth hormone (HGH) production and melatonin are boosted within the brain, which accelerates skin regeneration and production of antioxidant enzymes. Since melatonin helps us reach sleep cycle 3, the most restorative phase, this brain—skin connection explains why we look our best when we are well-rested.

Note from author, Jules Annen, PhD:

Jules AnnenWhile writing this post, I looked into how our ancestors handled seasonal change. My research led to countless articles about beautiful ceremonies, rituals, and celebrations of life and very few articles about their struggle. Our ancestors adapted through seasonal change. They passed down the wisdom of how to boost our mood, balance our skin, and achieve restorative sleep just by keeping serotonin and melatonin in check. Learn more about Jules Annen, PhD here.

Do you want to learn more about how hormones affect the skin?

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