kris ulland

Your Nutrition Partner

Melatonin is considered the “sleep hormone”. It regulates circadian rhythms, the body’s internal biological clock, which can improve sleep patterns. Melatonin is a universal molecule; it is found in bacteria, jellyfish, plants, and almost anything that is subject to circadian rhythms.

If you have had enough exposure to bright light in the daytime, your pineal gland deep in your brain will typically start secreting melatonin around 9 p.m. As the amount of melatonin in your brain increases, sleepiness sets in as your body begins to prepare for sleep.

If you stay awake past dark, artificial light, especially that emitted by electronic devices, will inhibit your body’s melatonin production. Ideally, stop using electronics at least an hour or two before bedtime to help increase melatonin production and maintain a steady circadian rhythm.

Sleep is important for optimal health. Inadequate sleep has a well-documented negative impact on immune health, increasing the susceptibility to infectious diseases and cancer.

Internal production of melatonin drops significantly with age. The deterioration of the immune system that comes with age is called immune senescence and it causes dramatic weakening of immunity. This is a large part of the reason that the elderly are more susceptible to infectious diseases.

A healthy immune system will search out and eliminate abnormalities, including senescent cells, premalignant cells and cancer cells.

Scientist have found that melatonin sends signals to the immune system and the immune system “talks” back. This “conversation” bolsters innate defenses that guard against a wide range of pathogens, from viruses to cancer cells. The communication improves the attack on disease-causing bacteria and parasites.

Melatonin is a potent antioxidant that plays an important role in cancer prevention. It is also thought to be important for brain, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal health.

In one study, researchers suggested melatonin may even improve the treatment of bacterial diseases such as tuberculosis. In another, melatonin was identified as a potential tool against inflammation and autoimmune diseases, including Type 1 diabetes.

Melatonin is also an important energy hormone. As noted in the Stanford University course paper “Melatonin and Energy Levels”, if your sleep efficiency is impaired, meaning you’re not sleeping as deeply as you should, for as long as is ideal, then your energy level is going to be adversely affected. Conversely, spending most of your daytime hours in poorly lit rooms, especially if you’re also exposed to excessive light after sunset, can impair your melatonin production, causing you to not sleep well.

The antioxidant activity of melatonin helps protect your mitochondria, the tiny organelles inside your cells that generate most of the ATP or energy currency of your body. As noted in a 2007 paper in the Frontiers of Bioscience, melatonin appears to be the most powerful antioxidant  because it has the ability to actually enter into your mitochondria. This is an ability that not all antioxidants have. According to this Frontiers of Bioscience paper, melatonin helps “prevent mitochondrial impairment, energy failure and apoptosis (cell death) in oxidatively-damaged mitochondria.”

One of the things that makes melatonin so powerful is that it doesn’t just act as an antioxidant in and of itself; it also interacts with your body’s innate antioxidant system where it recharges glutathione, an antioxidant produced by the body.

Since melatonin is only released in response to darkness, and is easily and significantly inhibited by light, your mitochondrial health will suffer if you do not take steps to optimize your sleep.

Aside from worsening your sleep quality and decreasing your sleep quantity, low melatonin production also increases oxidative stress, speeds up the aging process and raises your risk of degenerative diseases and chronic fatigue, thanks to its influence over your mitochondria.

Melatonin enhances vitamin D signaling, the two molecules act synergistically to optimize your mitochondrial function. According to neurologist and sleep coach Dr. Stasha Gominak, “The biosynthetic pathways of vitamin D and melatonin are inversely related relative to sun exposure,” meaning both are dependent on properly timed exposure to the sun. Vitamin D and melatonin “play an essential role as modulators of mitochondrial function and adaptation to circadian and seasonal variations.”

“A deficiency of these molecules has been associated with the pathogenesis of cardiovascular diseases, including arterial hypertension, neurodegenerative diseases, sleep disorders, kidney diseases, cancer, psychiatric disorders, bone diseases, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes, among others.

….inflammation, oxidative stress, as in mitochondrial dysfunction, are consistent with low levels of melatonin and vitamin D, and also represent risk factors connected with development and maintenance of prevalent acute and chronic pathologies.”

According to the 2020 paper in The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, multiple sclerosis, cancer, neuropsychiatric disorders and high blood pressure are all examples of diseases that appear strongly linked to and affected by your vitamin D and melatonin status.

A 2012 study pointed out melatonin is “an overlooked factor in schizophrenia and in the inhibition of antipsychotic side effects.” Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to a higher risk of schizophrenia, especially when levels are low during development.

When combined in treatment, melatonin and vitamin D produce strong synergistic effects against cancer. Two separate studies have demonstrated the combination induces apoptosis and inhibits growth and division of breast cancer cells. In one of them, the combination resulted in “an almost complete cell growth arrest at 144 hours.”

Optimize your melatonin production by making sure you sleep well at night. This might be a key to maintaining mitochondrial health, which in turn is paramount for longevity and the prevention of virtually all chronic health problems.

I always recommend getting sensible sun exposure on large portions of your body on a regular basis, ideally daily. For fair light-skinned people, 10-15 minutes maximum before applying sunscreen and for darker-skinned people, depending on how dark, up to an hour. If for whatever reason you cannot get sufficient amounts of sun exposure, consider taking a vitamin D3 supplement (along with a little extra vitamin K2 to maintain a healthy ratio between these two nutrients).

Optimizing your melatonin production starts with getting plenty of bright sunlight during the day, as this helps “set” your circadian clock. Then, as the evening wears on and the sun sets, you’ll want to avoid bright lighting.

Blue light from electronic screens and LED light bulbs is particularly problematic and inhibits melatonin the most. If you need lighting, opt for incandescent light bulbs, candles or salt lamps. The blue light from electronic screens can be counteracted by installing blue-blocking software such as Iris, or wearing blue-blocking glasses from Look Optic.

Turnip

Turnips are a root vegetable and member of the cruciferous family, along with other vegetables like bok choy, Brussels sprouts, and kale. They’re one of the world’s most important vegetable crops, as they’re used to feed both humans and cattle

Turnips are native to middle and eastern Asia, and thrive best in cool spring and fall weather, growing up to 1.5 feet high, with long and slender hairy leaves. The most common types of turnip are purple, red, or greenish on the outside and have a white-fleshed bulb which grows above the ground and has a smooth skin without scars or side roots. The larger the turnip, the tougher its texture and the stronger its flavor.

Turnips have an excellent nutritional profile.  Like other cruciferous vegetables, they’re low in calories but have plenty of vitamins and minerals.

A 1-cup serving of cubed raw turnips contains:

  • Calories: 36
  • Carbs: 8 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Vitamin C: 30% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Folate: 5% of the DV
  • Phosphorus: 3% of the DV
  • Calcium: 3% of the DV

The leaves contain even higher nutrient quantities, with 1 cup of chopped turnip greens providing:

  • Calories: 18
  • Carbs: 4 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams
  • Vitamin K: 115% of the DV
  • Vitamin C: 37% of the DV
  • Provitamin A: 35% of the DV
  • Folate: 27% of the DV
  • Calcium: 8% of the DV

Both the roots and leaves are great sources of vitamin C which improves iron absorption and helps regulate blood cholesterol. Vitamin C is essential for collagen synthesis, as well as for scavenging free radicals that may increase the risk of cancer and inflammation-related diseases.

Turnip greens are rich in the fat-soluble vitamins K and A, the type that your body absorbs better when consumed with fats. Vitamin K plays an essential role as a clotting agent, meaning that it helps prevent excessive bleeding. Vitamin A is vital for eye, skin, and lung health.

The leaves contain contain folate, calcium and potassium, as well as trace amounts of riboflavin, pantothenic acid, thiamin, copper, manganese and iron. Turnips also have flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol, which may help lower your risk for oxidative stress. Folate is important for the production of red blood cells and helps prevent developmental irregularities in fetuses.

Turnip greens have antioxidants, too, such as lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene. Plus, they’re a source of magnesium, which is “a cofactor in more than 300 enzyme systems that regulate diverse biochemical reactions in the body,” according to an article in the journal Nutrients.

There are plant compounds in turnip which have health-promoting effects. One example is brassinin, a type of indole compound which was found to help reduce your risk for colorectal and lung cancer. According to a tissue culture study published in the March 2012 issue of the International Journal of Oncology, brassinin may help kill human colon cancer cells. This was also the first study that determined the particular stage of cancer cell growth that the turnip compound affected.

Glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing compounds found in turnip sprouts, may have anticancer, antifungal, antiparasitic and antibacterial benefits. According to the November 2012 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, turnips have the second highest level of glucosinates (next to white mustard sprouts) among nine different cruciferous vegetables studied. Numerous studies have linked higher intakes of glucosinolates with a reduced risk of different types of cancer, including lung, colon, and rectal cancers.

Turnips’ glucosinolates also break down into isothiocyanates, a group of compounds capable of inhibiting microbial and bacterial growth. Studies have found that isothiocyanates fight common disease-causing bacteria, such as E. coliand S. aureus. One test-tube study determined that isothiocyanates from cruciferous vegetables had an antibacterial effect of up to 87% against antibiotic resistant strains of S. aureus. 

Researchers have conducted test-tube and animal studies to evaluate the potential effect of combining isothiocyanates with standard antibiotics.The results suggest that together, they may exert a more significant effect in controlling bacterial growth.

Turnips contain high amounts of flavonoids, mainly anthocyanins, another type of antioxidant with proven anticancer effects. Anthocyanins are present in blue and purple fruits and vegetables, such as turnips, and eating them is linked to lower rates of chronic and degenerative diseases.

How to Buy

Look for turnips that are heavy for their size and still have fresh leaves attached if possible. Small to medium size turnips are sweetest. Avoid turnips that are large, have soft spots, or leaf scars.

Turnips are available all year but their peak season is fall to early winter.

How to Store

Store turnips wrapped in a moist cloth or paper towel in placed in a cloth bag in the vegetable crisper drawer of the refrigerator. Turnips will keep in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 months. Store turnips greens just as you would turnip roots.

 

How to Cook

Turnips have a distinct “hot” flavor that complements many dishes. They can be roasted, baked, mashed or mixed with cherry tomatoes and olives to make a delicious appetizer. You can also mix them in stews alongside vegetables like carrots and kohlrabi.

Before cooking or serving turnip, make sure you clean it thoroughly by scrubbing the skin with a vegetable brush under running water. It has a great crunch and texture, so make sure not to overcook. Don’t throw away the leafy green tops — they are actually rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants

Turnips can be eaten both cooked or raw, and turnip greens make a great addition to salads.

Here are some ways to incorporate turnips into your diet:

  • Add some boiled turnips to your mashed potato recipe.
  • Thinly slice and bake them to prepare crunchy turnip chips.
  • Mix cubed turnips with potatoes and carrots when grilling or roasting vegetables.
  • Add some grated turnips to coleslaw for a more flavorful version.
  • Sauté turnips and turnip greens for a healthy side of veggies.

Turnips are very easy to cook with, and adding them to some of your favorite dishes will surely enhance their nutritional value.

 

Ginger Pickled Turnips

Beth Dooley/ Photo Credit: Mette Neilsen for the Star Tribune /Minneapolis

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups pickles

Ingredients

1 bunch spring or salad turnips

• 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

• 1 tbsp. peeled, thinly sliced fresh ginger root

• 1 c. rice wine vinegar – Rice wine vinegar is mild. If you use apple cider vinegar or white wine or champagne vinegar, increase the amount of water from 3/4 to 1 cup.

• 3 tbsp. brown rice syrup

• 2 tsp. kosher salt

Instructions

To prepare the turnips, trim the roots and cut off the green tops, leaving about 1 inch of the stems. Cut the turnips into quarters. Place in a heatproof container and toss in the garlic and ginger.

In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, 3/4 cup water, honey and salt. Bring to a boil, stir and pour the mixture over the turnips. Allow the pickles to come to room temperature before serving immediately or covering and storing in the refrigerator.

*These crisp and spicy pickles are great on Impossible Burgers, salads and tacos. Though they are ready to eat immediately, they’ll taste even better next day. These will keep about a week in a covered jar in the refrigerator.

 

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