(NaturalNews) The naturally produced chemical melatonin may slow the effects of aging, according to an animal study conducted by Spanish scientists associated with the Spanish Aging Research Network (RNIE).
Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the human body, particularly during darkness, and its production may be hampered by excessive artificial lighting. It is also found in certain plants, including bananas, cherries, corn, lemon verbena, mint, oats, onions, rice, sage and thyme, as well as in red wine. It has been available as a health supplement since 1993.
The hormone has previously been shown to function as an antioxidant, removing from the blood the free radicals that have been associated with aging. Free radicals are electrically charged chemicals that may cause cell damage. According to professor Darío Acuña Castroviejo of the University of Granada, coordinator of the RNIE, free radicals cause cells to become "more fragile with the years and, therefore, their cell membranes become easier to break."
In the recent study, scientists from the Universities of Barcelona, Granada, Oviedo, Reus, Saragossa and Seville administered melatonin to two groups of mice and observed its effects on their aging processes. The treatment began at the age of five months, the age at which the researchers determined that "the first signs of aging start ... due to an increase in free radicals." Some of the mice had been genetically modified to exhibit accelerated cell aging, while the others were unmodified.
The researchers found that the melatonin's antioxidant effects neutralized inflammation and oxidation of cells, and increased the mice's lifespans. They suggested that it would have a similar effect in humans, and in particular that it might help prevent or delay certain illnesses that are related to aging, free radicals and inflammatory processes.
The age at which aging begins in humans -- the equivalent to five months in mice -- is about 30 years.