Researchers have claimed that a potent sleep hormone could hold the key to beating diabetes.
They believe that by taking a daily supplement containing melatonin, people could help protect themselves against the devastating condition, the Daily Express reported.
The supplement is already available on prescription to treat insomnia.
Researchers from a Boston hospital found that women with low levels of melatonin in their body were more than twice as likely to develop Type 2 diabetes as those with high levels.
Melatonin is produced naturally in the body by the pineal gland, a pea-shaped organ inside the brain that is sensitive to light. When it gets dark, the hormone is released, as the body’s signal that it is time to fall asleep.
Dr Ciaran McMullan and colleagues at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital said previous studies have suggested that melatonin may play a role in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels by helping to metabolise glucose.
They took blood and urine samples from hundreds of women in 2000. Of these, 370 had developed Type 2 diabetes by last year.
The research team found that there were twice as many cases among those with the lowest melatonin levels even when factors such as family history of diabetes and high blood pressure were taken into account.
In their research, the team wrote that melatonin receptors have been found throughout the body including in pancreatic cells.
This reflected “the widespread effects of melatonin on physiological functions such as energy metabolism and the regulation of body weight,” they said.
However, mutations in the receptors were associated with lowering sensitivity to insulin and Type 2 diabetes.
The authors concluded that “it is interesting to postulate from these data whether there is a causal role for reduced melatonin [levels] in diabetes risk.”
The findings are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.