Low melatonin levels tied to diabetes risk

Low levels of melatonin, a hormone regulating the sleep-wake cycle, may increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes in women, a new study has warned.

US researchers found that women who had low levels of melatonin at night had twice the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes over a 12-year period compared with women who had high melatonin levels.

The link between low melatonin levels and Type 2 diabetes held even after the researchers took into account other factors that could increase the risk of diabetes, such as age, weight, physical activity levels and sleep duration.

However, the study only found an association, and cannot prove that low melatonin levels cause Type 2 diabetes, website MyHealthNewsDaily reported.

The findings raise the question of whether increasing people’s melatonin levels, through supplements or prolonged exposure to darkness, could decrease diabetes risk, said study researcher Dr Ciaran McMullan, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

The new study involved 370 women who developed Type 2 diabetes between 2000 and 2012 (but did not have the condition before the study’s start), and 370 women who didn’t develop diabetes.

Urine samples were collected in the morning as a way to measure melatonin levels produced overnight.

Factors that can lower melatonin levels include: sleep disturbances, short sleep duration, working the night shift and taking certain drugs, such as beta-blockers, said Dr John Forman, also of Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

The study included mostly white women, so it’s not clear if the results apply to men or to other ethnic groups, the researchers said.

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