Type 2 diabetes risk linked to melatonin production

A relationship has been suggested between type 2 diabetes and a patient's sleep-wake cycle. A new study, which outlines how melatonin production could impact the likelihood of developing the condition, adds more support for this idea. The Globe and Mail reports that a study published in early April in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests low levels of the hormone melatonin could increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The results are drawn from the Nurses' Health Study, a long-term project that studies how certain factors could affect overall health.

"This is the first time that an independent association has been established between nocturnal melatonin secretion and type two diabetes risk," Ciaran McMullan, a researcher in the Renal Division and Kidney Clinical Research Institute at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston and the study's lead author, said in a statement reported by the New York Daily News.

Melatonin is often known as the sleep hormone for its role in regulating one's internal 24-hour clock. It is produced in the brain, mostly during sleep at night. Some people produce more than others and NBC News reported that individuals with the lowest levels of melatonin were twice as likely to develop diabetes when compared to those with higher levels of melatonin.

McMullan said that researchers expected to find some association between melatonin and diabetes risk, but the magnitude of the link was a surprising. He said it is not yet clear whether patients can use melatonin supplementation to manage the risk of developing the disease, so more research must be done before recommending this option for people with high blood sugar levels.

Dr. Mitchell Lazar, a professor of medicine and director of the Institute for Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, told NBC that it is possible that melatonin levels can signal that a patient's internal clock is not working well, which could be the real culprit behind increased diabetes risk.

"We've increasingly realized that aspects of our sleep-wake cycle, our behavioral and circadian rhythms are environmental factors that contribute to the risk for diabetes," said Lazar. He said it is also unclear whether low melatonin causes diabetes, or whether diabetes causes low melatonin. He said the connection between the two is important, "but it's just one piece of the puzzle."

According to The Globe and Mail, researchers studied 370 participants in the Nurses' Health Study who developed diabetes between 2000 and 2012 and compared them against a control group of 370 non-diabetic women from the same age group and ethnic background.

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