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Our connection to the light and dark circadian cycles goes back to some of the very first cells that appeared on earth. Melatonin, which is considered to be one of the oldest molecules on earth and some 3.5 billion years old, is a powerful biological clock regulator. (2) The health and longevity of all organisms including plants, animals, insects, bacteria, cells and even us humans depend on biological clocks in sync with the circadian rhythms. (1)
Like humans, higher plants depend on melatonin for a growing number of physiological functions. In plants, new research has linked melatonin to powerful anti-stress functions. If a plant were under attack from a bacterial, viral or bio-chemical attacker, the plant would produce protective melatonin. If the plant was exposed to severe weather changes, such as drought or unseasonal temperature changes, the plant would secrete more melatonin. (3) Cutting-edge research suggests that melatonin will do the same for us!
Plant melatonin coordinates many aspects of the plant’s growth and development, protection and survival, as well as gene expression. Melatonin is on the front line, coping with biological and environmental stressors that could harm the plant. New research is suggesting that melatonin is involved in the regulation of gene expression in order to better adapt to plant stressors. (3)
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Plants also feed themselves in sync with circadian rhythms by pulling nutrients from the soils and delivering them to the plant at different times of day. (4) Certain plant nutrients are also more available in plants at certain times of day, times of month and seasonally. (1)
Ayurvedic experts knew that many components in flowers and leaves are present only at certain times of the day; if collected at the wrong time, they wouldn’t produce effective medicine. For example, rose petals plucked before sunrise will have more scent than those plucked at 2pm. According to Ayurveda, plants were always harvested with respect to the plant’s natural rhythms, when the plant was most potent and full. This often meant being harvested at dawn or dusk or even on a full moon — all based on the light/dark cycles regulated by melatonin. (1)
Plant Clocks Linked to Human Clocks
Dr. Janet Braam, Professor of Cell Biology at Rice University, performed research on the circadian rhythms of plants. According to Dr. Braam, vegetables increase and decrease certain phytochemicals based on the time of day. The immune systems and nutrient blueprint of certain vegetables are dependent on light and dark cycles, even after they have been picked!
Plants that sit in brightly-lit grocery stores 24 hours a day lose their circadian rhythms, and thus may lose much of their nutritional strength. Vegetables may be more susceptible to harmful bacteria and fungi when not exposed to the natural cycles of light and dark, suggesting that plant immunity is linked to light/dark cycles as well.
While more vegetables need to be tested, her preliminary findings have shown that the most potent time that plants make their nutrient and phytochemicals available to us as a food was the middle of the day – when the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda and the newest science tell us to eat our main meal! (6) After midday, the phytochemicals would begin to wane and became least potent at night (5) suggesting that the best time for us to eat is in fact midday.
Recent studies on the circadian rhythms of eating have linked plants rhythms with human digestive rhythms. Researchers found that eating only breakfast and lunch and no dinner reduced body weight, liver fat content, fasting blood sugars glucose and insulin more than the same caloric diet split into six meals. (6)
Stay tuned for more articles about the numerous benefits of melatonin, beyond sleep!