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THE MYSTERIOUS PINEAL ORGAN
©2011 ROMESH SENEWIRATNE (MD)
In early 1995 I read, for the first time, that the famous French scientist and philosopher Rene Descartes had thought the pineal to be the “seat of the soul”, and that the ancient Indians had thought the organ to be the “third eye” for perceiving truth. This is, of course, common knowledge, but I had not learned these historical facts in medical school.

After six years as a medical student in Brisbane, followed by three years of post-graduate training (the last as a paediatric registrar) at the Royal Brisbane Hospital, when I embarked on a career as a general practitioner in 1986, all I knew about the pineal organ in the brain was its rough location and that it often calcifies progressively the older one gets. If such calcification is evident, seen as a white spot in the middle of the brain, the pineal, we learnt, can be used to detect ‘midline shift’ on anterior-posterior X-ray views of the skull. Midline shift, we were taught, indicates a ‘space occupying lesion’ on one side of the brain (such as a brain tumour or subdural haematoma).

In the pre-CT-scan days, when I trained to become one of thousands of Australian doctors, looking for midline shift’ of pineal calcification on skull X-rays was imprinted into our minds as an essential investigation for unexplained headaches or loss of consciousness. In one sense, an unconscious patient, or one with a suspected brain tumour, was ‘lucky’ if he or she had a calcified pineal – it meant ‘mid-line’ shift could be picked up early, allowing early diagnosis and treatment. Such calcification as seen on plain X-rays of the skull, first described by Schuller in 1918, was

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regarded as ‘physiological’ – meaning not ‘pathological’ (indicative of disease).

Pineal calcification was recognized as sometimes being abnormal, and suggestive of pineal tumours. Radiologists were trained to report on calcification greater than 1cm in diameter (larger than the usual size of the pineal), since this could mean the gland was enlarged by a tumour, of which there are several types. Pineal calcification less than a centimeter in diameter was regarded as ‘physiological’, or normal, and therefore not worth reporting.

The question of whether or not so-called ‘physiological calcification’ is actually normal, or whether it indicates loss of function of the pineal, only became relevant after the discovery at Yale University, by the dermatologist Aaron Lerner and co-researchers, of melatonin, the principle hormone secreted by what was then recognized, again, as a ‘gland’ (the famous Roman physician Galen given it the name glandaris pinealis in the 4th century AD). This discovery of melatonin was in 1958 at Yale University, prior to which the pineal was generally regarded as vestigial, and to have no function in human beings.

The pineal organ has been the subject of one of the biggest, and least commented on, reversals of opinion in modern medicine and physiology. Up until 1958, when the hormone melatonin was isolated from cattle pineal glands by Dr Aaron Lerner, the ‘pineal body’, as it was called, was widely regarded as vestigial by the medical profession. The fact that the organ tends to calcify with age was taken as proof that it serves no function in humans. This claim is made explicitly in the 1957 edition of the reference text Histology by Arthur Ham, Professor of Anatomy at the

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University of Toronto and Head of the Division of Biological Research at the Ontario Cancer Institute in Canada: “The pineal body, also called the epiphysis, is a little coneshaped body about 1 cm. in length. Although it originates from, and remains connected to, the posterior end of the roof of the third ventricle, it projects backward so that it lies dorsal to the midbrain… “The pineal body of mammals is the vestige of the median eye which was probably a functioning organ in certain amphibia and reptiles that are now extinct. Like other vestigial organs in man, it tends to reach its greatest development relatively early in life and thereafter to degenerate. One evidence of the latter process is the formation of calcified bodies of a laminated appearance in the organ. These constitute what is called brain sand.” (pp745-6, emphasis added)

Photomicrograph of pineal tissue in 1957 edition of Ham’s Histology

dementia and cancer. or treat. there is some evidence to suggest that there is some association between the sexual development of the male and the pineal body. The net result of all this study is difficult to assess. However. the nature and significance of this association are still obscure. back in 1917. from many disciplines. to cause lightening of frog skin. Various types of extracts made from pineal bodies have been fed or injected into animals. as have the effects of grafting a series of pineal transplants into animals. . Though the dermatologist’s hope that the discovery might help understand. In addition to influencing the timing of pituitary hormone release (thus influencing our entire endocrine system). was looking for the pineal factor that had been observed. (pp. who also discovered the pituitary hormone Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone (MSH). The effects of the removal of the pineal body from young animals have been investigated. in 1958. spawned a fascinating chain of research that has continued to the present day. in particular.746) Aaron Lerner. The experimental results are conflicting. Arthur Ham explains. melatonin has been shown to be a potent anti-oxidant and scavenger of free radicals – a property of the molecule with considerable relevance to the prevention of heart disease. the de-pigmenting skin disease vitiligo remains unrealized.4 Though maintaining that the pineal is a vestige. Nevertheless. has shown the pineal to influence the endocrine and immune systems. This research. in his 1957 text (a standard textbook in histology for medical students in Australia) that: “The function of the pineal has been studied by the same means that have been employed for the study of endocrine glands. his discovery of the chemical structure of melatonin. stroke. The effects of pineal tumors on men and women have been noted.

Though the initial studies demonstrated this to be the case in rodents. not from the brain. and synthesis of melatonin from the well known indole amine serotonin comes under control of the autonomic nervous system. the uppermost of the paravertebral sympathetic ganglia. including humans. and consequently secretory activity in the pineal. further. a structure the size of a grain of rice in the anterior hypothalamus. during what some authors have described as the ‘era of pinealology’. the secretion of melatonin. details of the synthesis of melatonin from the amino acid tryptophan via the increasingly well-known molecule serotonin were worked out. Between 1960 and 1980. Kappers discovered that the primary innervation of the mammalian pineal comes. is suppressed by exposure to bright light. subsequent studies showed the same to be the case in other mammals. and that changes in environmental lighting alter neural activity in the SCN. During these years. which occurs at night. The SCN plays a central role in circadian rhythms. The sympathetic innervation of the pineal gland was first described by the Dutch neuroscientist Johannes Ariens Kappers in 1960. though more recently parasympathetic innervation of the pineal has also been reported. It was established that the suprachiasmatic nuclei receive neural input from the eyes. mainly the sympathetic branch. including the enzymes and co-factors involved in the . It was established that the sympathetic inputs to the pineal (from the superior cervical ganglia) came under the control of the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). but from the superior cervical ganglia in the upper neck. and has been described as a ‘biological clock’. numerous studies elucidated the mystery of what had previously been regarded as a vestigial organ.5 Importantly.

and it was shown that synthesis of the enzyme NAT (Nacetyl-transferase). The fact that melatonin has an effect on the timing of pituitary hormone release (especially pituitary gonadotrophins) was established. Serotonin is an intermediate molecule in this pathway. Conversion of serotonin to melatonin. the rate limiting step in the synthesis of melatonin. this was shown to be the case in many mammals. Details of the mechanism by which the neurotransmitter noradrenaline (norepinephrine) in the sympathetic synapses stimulates synthesis of melatonin from serotonin were elucidated. and this neurohormone/neurotransmitter is also known to be concentrated in the pineal. . The following diagram shows the metabolic pathway for the synthesis of melatonin from tryptophan.6 biochemical pathway. was stimulated by noradrenaline and inhibited by exposure to light shone into the eyes. including humans. which occurs at night (usually during sleep) is dependent on the catecholamine neurotransmitter noradrenaline (norepinephrine). It was also reported that people who are totally blind (and rats that have their optic nerves severed or their eyeballs removed) lose the usual circadian rhythmicity of melatonin secretion.

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These studies showed that sub-Saharan Africans had much lower incidences of calcification. Adeloye and Felson’s paper. Since pineal calcification increases with age. the 300 ‘blacks’ studied (9. although more recent papers and texts tend to include ‘Hispanics’ as a third group for comparison). published in 1974.8 PINEAL CALCIFICATION: PHYSIOLOGICAL OR PATHOLOGICAL? Regarding so-called ‘physiological’ pineal calcification. than had been reported in the USA and Europe. and found that in populations living in a ‘similar environment’.8% of whom had visible pineal calcification) showed significantly less calcification than the 16% of 200 ‘whites’ in whom a pineal opacity could be seen. and appeared to vary between the sexes. compared ‘black’ and ‘white’ Americans. A subsequent study in Cincinnati General Hospital. as well as gender (comparing ‘black’ and ‘white’ populations remains a common feature of American medical science. the first indication that this may not be ‘normal’ came from startling reports from Uganda and Nigeria in the early 1970s. Published in the November 1974 issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology. presented their findings in the following table: . the 1974 study by Adelola Adeloye (Rockefeller Fellow at the Children’s Hospital Research Foundation at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio) and Benjamin Felson (Professor of Radiology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine) compared different age groups of ‘blacks’ and ‘whites’. titled Incidence of Normal Pineal Gland Calcification in Skull Roentgenograms of Black and White Americans. though considerably more than that reported from populations in Nigeria (5 percent of 952 patients reported by Daramola and Oluwu in 1972) and Uganda (2 percent of 100 patients by Murphy in 1968). as seen on X-ray.

most of the subjects in the study were children under the age of 19. only two of these showed pineal calcification. In older age groups there was a greater tendency to calcification in whites. from the same paper. when the number of blacks (300) and whites (200) are taken into consideration. with a greater tendency towards calcification seen in white males and black females above the age of 20. shows the relevant percentages: .9 As can be seen. both black. The following table.

and such luminaries of classical Greek and Roman science as Erasistratos.10 The fact that by the mid-1970s it had been conclusively shown that pineal calcification is not a ubiquitous phenomenon. Though the pineal has been known of since ancient times. like myself. that pineal calcification may be abnormal or unhealthy was not suggested to us. the fact that it is an unpaired structure and the organ’s generous blood supply. Polynesians and Africans. the French philosopher and scientist Rene Descartes accorded equal respect to the pineal during the European renaissance. Partly based on its prominent midline location. The idea. and dramatically more than Indians. functions that may well justify the title of ‘pineal organ’. whose medical writings were unchallenged for more than a thousand years in the West. escaped the attention of doctors. DISCOVERY OF THE PINEAL The pineal was so named because of its shape – the famous Roman physician Galen thought it resembled a pine cone. rather than merely a gland. Galen. also has other physiological activity – almost certainly neuronal (electrical). the glandaris pinealis. wrote that the ancient Greek physicians Herophilos and Erasistratos regarded the pineal gland. Studies since the 1960s indicate that the pineal. . though certainly having a glandular function. then commonly expressed in the international literature. affecting American Caucasians significantly more than African-Americans. and possibly magnetic. to be of special importance. who trained in Australia.

Specifically. in the fields of anatomy. physiology.11 Herophilos and Galen accorded importance to it. In addition. The calcification noted on post-mortem and frequently seen on X-ray was seen as further evidence that the pineal served no physiological function in humans. While volumes and careers. ranging from fish. thereby affecting the timing of widespread physiological events in the body. ranging from science fiction to religious and ‘parapsychology’ . other literature. release of the hormone melatonin (which occurs mainly at night and is suppressed by exposure to light) affects the timing of pituitary hormone release. At the same time. textbooks that might be expected to describe the known physiology and metabolism of the pineal and its secretions say nothing about the gland. it has been conclusively proven that the main innervation of the pineal organ in mammals (including ourselves) comes from the sympathetic nervous system – the so-called ‘fight or flight’ branch of the autonomic nervous system. The research data. amphibians and reptiles to birds and mammals. PHYSIOLOGY OF THE PINEAL ORGAN Evidence has mounted since the 1960s that the pineal acts as a ‘neuroendocrine transducer’ – an organ that converts electrical neural signals into hormonal (endocrine) signals. neuropsychiatry and neurology. and conclusions made by various pineal authorities are complex and sometimes contradictory. endocrinology. throughout most of the 20th century the ‘pineal body’ was consistently described in medical texts as a useless vestigial remnant of our evolutionary ancestry from ‘lower vertebrates’. have been devoted to study of the pineal organ. despite mounting evidence of its extraordinary range of activity in both cold and warm blooded vertebrates. especially in the late 1980s and 90s when drugs known to affect pineal function were widely (and wildly) prescribed.

Descartes famous quote that the ‘pineal is the seat of the soul’ may have acted as a disincentive for the modern scientific establishment abandoning the previously dominant ‘vestigial theory’. more often than not. the problem of the localization of the soul was very much discussed by both scientists and philosophers. function as a light-sensitive third eye in some living reptiles and amphibians (and not just in extinct ones as was thought up till the 1960s). At the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century. Likewise. however. he has. Often. Russell Reiter. This holds very strongly for the work of Descartes. in fact. Having a synthesising mind. in his three-volume specialist text The Pineal Gland writes that Descartes stressed that the ‘soul’ cannot be localised or confined to any single part of the body: “Rene Descartes (1596 to 1650) or Cartesius is commonly cited as stating that the pineal gland is the seat of the soul. modern scientists consider this statement quite incomprehensible and even ridiculous due to the general failure of forgetting that. been taken out of context and misunderstood. mostly based . in historical as well as modern times. Although Descartes has been ridiculed by later scientists for his claims about the pineal. Talk of souls and spirits is generally viewed as the domain of priests. The association between the Eastern concept of the Third Eye and the pineal may have been a significant motivating force behind Western scientific skepticism towards discoveries by zoologists that the pineal organ does.12 writings. philosophers and psychiatric patients by the largely atheistic scientific and medical research industry. most ideas and theories are influenced by the knowledge and philosophical background prevailing at the time in which they are conceived. Descartes gave expression to current ideas which were. has had a lot to say about the pineal and its association with what was described as a ‘Third Eye’.

very obvious. reason is the financial rewards of selling drugs – in the case of the pineal. cannot be localized exclusively to any precise part of the body because it is related to all body parts according to its very nature. selling melatonin and SSRI drugs. Descartes emphatically says that the soul. Melatonin is currently being promoted as a ‘nutritional supplement’ and for treatment of jet lag and insomnia. MDMA (Ecstasy) and SSRI drugs. an old Aristotolean doctrine to which Augustinus (354 to 430) did agree. on those of earlier authors…In his Passions de l’Ame. in fact. This generation had not been taught. and the muscles which were based. that only a few years earlier the pineal was thought to be as useless as the appendix. over recent decades. although Aristotle finally thought that the soul would be seated in the heart. his ‘anima’.” (p. Another. mostly. of which Prozac (fluoxitine) was the first. The ‘era of pinealology’ lasted from 1958. He reasoned systematically using rather ingenious mechanistic theories on the function of the brain. Pineal research is fundamentally related to serotonin research.13 on ancient concepts. . political and financial intrigue. until the early 1980s. This is. when melatonin was discovered.5) Talk of ‘third eyes’ and the ‘seat of the soul’ are only two of many reasons that the pineal organ has been the subject of scientific. religious. amongst many reasons plantderived melatonin is voluntarily ingested these days. the sense organs. secrecy and suspicion. when it was replaced by the era of SSRI antidepressants and the Prozac generation. serotonin being the neurotransmitter targeted by LSD. and therefore could not remember.

This . especially those secreted by the pituitary gland. it is now thought that melatonin affects the activity of the immune system as well as the endocrine system. and probably as a light-sensitive magnetosensory organ in birds. melatonin appears to inhibit the activity of luteinizing hormone (LH). however only in the 1970s did it become evident as to why this occurs. These affect the endocrine activity of the testes and ovaries. The chemical structures of these ‘indole amines’ was discovered along with those of the enzymes involved in the synthesis of serotonin and melatonin. It was also found that the pineal functions as a third eye in certain reptiles and amphibians. Also. the anterior pituitary hormone that regulates secretion of testosterone in male mammals and oestrogen in females. and serotonin from the amino acid tryptophan. Specifically.14 THE FUNCTION OF THE PINEAL ORGAN IN HUMANS During the 1960s. but it is generally agreed that the secretion of melatonin (and other pineal hormones) affect the gonadotropins secreted by the pituitary gland (FSH and LH). Even now opinion is divided. The full story of the pineal’s role as an endocrine organ is much more complex than this – hormone secretion other than of the gonadotrophins is affected by the pineal and its main neurohormone. That pineal tumours can cause precocious puberty (abnormally early development of puberty) in humans was known as early as the 1890s. and that the neurohormone affects secretion of other hormones. The function of the organ in various mammals remained controversial. melatonin. however. much was discovered about the pineal organ in humans and other vertebrates. It was discovered that melatonin is synthesised from serotonin. It was discovered that light shone into the eyes suppressed nocturnal melatonin production.

It receives a cyclic input of sympathetic nervous ‘information’ which is suppressed when the retina responds to light. Largely as a consequence.1812) (emphasis added) . much as the adrenal medulla releases epinephrine [adrenaline] in response to cholinergic nervous stimulation [using the neurotransmitter acetyl choline]. since the two systems are closely related – and many hormones have effects on multiple systems. In response to this input. into the bloodstream. Now the melatonin in blood and urine can be measured by bioassay and radioimmunoassay.” (p. Until very recently. compelling evidence has accumulated that the mammalian pineal is not a vestige but an important component of a neuroendocrine control system. This organ has been shown to function as a neuroendocrine transducer. human pineal physiology remained largely conjectural. the pineal secretes a hormone. melatonin. and of the possible medical use of pineal compounds. no assay was available to permit measurement of melatonin in human blood or urine. and it is apparent that the same factors that control the synthesis and secretion of this hormone in experimental animals also do so in humans. In the 1980 (ninth) edition of Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine Professor Richard Wurtman (Professor of Endocrinology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) wrote that the pineal is now regarded as a “neuroendocrine transducer”: “Since the discovery of melatonin in 1958. thereby providing the body with a circulating ‘clock’ apparatus.15 would not be surprising. and the only disease states that could clearly be associated with pineal malfunction were those caused by pineal neoplasms [tumours]. There is thus reason for optimism that our understanding of pineal physiology and pathophysiology. will soon expand. The synthesis and secretion of melatonin vary with a 24-h periodicity.

16 A few years after these words were written melatonin began to be marketed as a treatment for jet lag and was available for public consumption. There is possibly an . There is evidence for a decline in amplitude of the melatonin rhythm in depression and in schizophrenia. the indole amine that is converted to melatonin in the pineal. meant merely exposing the ‘sufferer’ to artificial light (winter blues was claimed to be ‘caused’ by ‘chemical imbalances’ consequent on the shortening of daylight hours in winter). Light therapy. which was said to also respond to “light therapy”. It was later marketed as a treatment for “seasonal affective disorder” (SAD. Meanwhile. and it has been extensively used in psychiatry and in other fields to assess biological clock status. drugs that affect serotonin. the manufacturers of the first of the selective serotonin re-uptake inhibiting (SSRI) drugs. Melatonin is arguably the best index of biological clock function: only bright light ‘masks’ the expression of the endogenous rhythm. or ‘winter blues’). She wrote. in 1995: “Abnormalities in circadian function have been postulated in depression and mania. THE PINEAL AND PSYCHIATRY The relationship between the pineal and the psychiatry profession is discussed by Professor Josephine Arendt in Melatonin and the Mammalian Pineal Gland in a section titled “melatonin in psychiatric disorder”. as it was practiced. were launched with much fanfare and publicity. spearheaded by Eli Lilly. In depression this is associated with an increase in cortisol. natural” tablet to “reset the body clock”. Prozac (fluoxetine). It could be purchased in airports around the USA and was being marketed as a “safe.

There may be a link between an increase in melatonin production and efficacy of treatment and this possibility merits exploration. This observation remains to be confirmed but is of considerable theoretical interest. 2500 lux) morning and evening..17 increase in amplitude in mania although not all studies are consistent. or by direct action on serotonin and catecholamine receptors. “There is little evidence for abnormal timing of melatonin. The light treatment appears to be efficient but it does not appear to work through melatonin. although Lewy (Lewy et al. The treatment proposed for SAD patients was the creation of an artificial summer day length using 3 hours of bright full spectrum light (Vitalite. schizophrenia and mania. depression. Although in the introduction of her book she says that “pineal research is truly interdisciplinary” and “its participants are required to keep their perspectives broad while still remaining .237) Professor Arendt and her co-workers at the University of Surrey in the UK have tested melatonin levels in many psychiatric patients – including people diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. The ‘melatonin hypothesis’ predicted that such light treatment would shorten the duration of melatonin secretion thus generating a summer day length signal by analogy with animal work. manic depression. This observation may prove to be of both diagnostic and therapeutic importance. “Most pharmacological antidepressant treatments will stimulate melatonin secretion through increased availability of the precursors tryptophan and serotonin and the major pineal neurotransmitter noradrenalin.” (p. 1987) has reported exceptionally delayed melatonin rhythms in winter in patients with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) compared to the small delay seen in normals. Bipolar (manic depressive) patients are more sensitive to light suppression of melatonin than normals.

sadder than they do in spring. This may explain why “the Vitalite. Many people feel socially isolated anyway. and feel better with even minimal attention from others (because they get so little). there are many reasons as to why people may feel unhappy.18 absolutely rigorous”. boredom. Sitting in bright light may well be safer and more effective than taking Prozac or Prothiaden (a commonly prescribed tricyclic antidepressant). It is also clear that the long-term risks of interfering with pineal activity are presently unknown. summer and autumn. along with others of their class. in terms of the mind sciences she looks no further than the latest psychiatric labels from the British and American psychiatric professions. tired. 2500 lux” works to alleviate SAD. including Professor Arendt herself. as are the full functions of the organ – although this has not stopped several researchers. at least. The obvious reason is that it is cold and tends to rain more. evidently affect pineal function and the secretion of melatonin together with their better known effects on serotonin and noradrenaline. In the acknowledgements of her 1995 book she wrote: “Vincent Marks gave essential help and encouragement both to establish my laboratory in the UK and to fund our work. conveniently abbreviated to “SAD” is a new label for an old phenomenon (that may be worsening in negativistic societies) – many people feel sad during winter. and the overall level of social isolation in society tends to increase. experimenting on themselves by taking “timed melatonin” since as far back as 1981. John . “Seasonal Affective Disorder”. People who are sad and isolated may be particularly prone to placebo effects and suggestions that treatments will be efficacious. anxiety and anger). Looked at more holistically. People tend to stay inside more. Both these drugs. and bored in winter (in temperate regions) other than shortened day length. and many social and environmental consequences that accompany shortened day length which can contribute to ‘depression’ (a broad term which can include sadness.

It has been proposed as the treatment of choice for an enormous range of ills. in which we live. the South West Thames Regional Health Authority. the MRC [British Medical Research Council]. the most reasonable being natural rhythm disturbance occurring when our biology conflicts with our culture – such as shift work and jet lag. the AFRC.19 Wright enables our clinical studies in many ways not least by his ability to stay awake all night while taking blood samples.” (p.” The list of sponsors for her research gives some indication of those with a particular interest in knowing about melatonin’s role in humans: “Our work has primarily been funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. especially in winter. the Ministry of Defence. the Wellcome Trust. He and I first took timed melatonin in 1981 and realized its potential. several pharmaceutical companies and our own company Stockgrand Ltd.” Professor Arendt promotes the therapeutic benefits of melatonin enthusiastically in the foreword of Melatonin and the Mammalian Pineal Gland (although she does present some concerns at the end of the book): “At present it could almost be considered the best candidate for a universal panacea. It has essentially founded a whole new pharmacology which is yet in its early infancy. Its effects are time and dose dependent. and the unnatural lighting conditions.4) On page 282 Professor Arendt summarises what she regards as “problems with the therapeutic use of melatonin”: 1. the British Antarctic Survey. .

on the back cover. 7. Micheal Norden. There may be undesirable effects on cardiovascular function including clotting. The promotional blurb on the back cover boasts: . or ineffective depending on current and previous photoperiodic experience. and published by Harper Collins in 1996. to be “a provocative and enduring classic in the modern literature about mental health”. for the first time. Intermittent reported undesirable side effects include headache and nausea. On the other hand they may also be detrimental. circadian status. listen to the radio or visit our local library. At the same time propaganda prematurely proclaiming the effectiveness of ‘new drugs’ has now been expanded through the mass media – we are increasingly subjected to various drug promotional strategies on the Internet and when we watch television. and there are others. The fact that there are no published full toxicity studies illustrates that what is published tends to favour the use of drugs rather than discourage it. 4. There may be long-term consequences of treatment which are beneficial. Its interactions with other drug treatments are unknown. [a potentially disastrous risk] 6. These are all significant reasons to exercise caution in taking melatonin. It was on a visit to my local library in 1997 that I discovered. developmental stage. It is called Beyond Prozac and claims. The effects may be stimulatory. and previous exposure. The book that drew my attention to this was written by an American psychiatrist. There are no published full toxicity studies.20 2. inhibitory. 5. 3. how deeply the psychiatric profession has been involved in pineal research and melatonin promotion.

More exciting. These anecdotal observations certainly made me eager to see further investigation . Michael Norden. repeatedly making the familiar claim of “chemical imbalances” as being at the root of “mental illness”. Dr.” Dr Norden does not write about mental health – he writes about new drugs for the treatment of depression – the name of his book says it all. and weight problems. Based on seven years of groundbreaking research and clinical work. regulation of sleeping habits. instead. explains how the toll of modern-day life has undermined our health and led to a national epidemic of depression. Some patients reported excellent improvement in their sleep. Dr Norden also promotes St John’s Wort (hypericum. light therapy units (which he says can be bought for less than $200) and melatonin supplements. admitting that he had conducted trials on his own patients: “I recently began using melatonin on a limited basis in my practice. Beyond Prozac offers solutions to these chronic health problems that go beyond simply prescribing Prozac – from incredibly effective alternative treatments such as light therapy. about “behavior” and chemicals. some found that melatonin also reduced their stress and improved their mood. he does not write much about the mind – he writes. and specialized diets to the next generation of safer and more effective depression medications. But there is hope. Beyond Prozac is a provocative and enduring classic in the modern literature about mental health.21 “In Beyond Prozac. anxiety. The latter he recommends to “boost the immune system” and as an “anti-ageing hormone”. a European herb which is now being marketed in capsule or tablet form). A decisive voice in the debate about depression. In addition to promoting the new SSRI antidepressants. a psychiatrist and pioneer in developing new applications of Prozac. and for the treatment of sleep disorders. Although a psychiatrist by profession. stress and depression.

most all the melatonin now available appears to be synthesized. One aspect of the risk involves the lack of control regarding the strength and purity of the melatonin supplements. let alone oxygen which is quite toxic in high doses. This amounts to a massive uncontrolled experiment.22 of melatonin therapy for a range of stress-related conditions. Under no circumstances would I suggest anyone take melatonin derived from animal sources. As far as risks are concerned.” (p. This is one time when clearly ‘natural’ sources are inferior – you want synthesized melatonin. Testicular atrophy is presumably not one of the aspects of enhanced sexuality claimed by ardent proponents…Some companies now . it is known that high doses of melatonin will suppress gonadal function in animals.53) Stress-related conditions. Attempt to obtain pharmaceutical-grade melatonin and choose the most established manufacturers. “Melatonin itself appears to be one of the most benign substances known. Dr Norden urges less caution (and caution for different reasons) than Professor Arendt: “Apparently millions of Americans are already taking melatonin. Watch for reports of independent testing of preparations. People need to know that there is a risk involved in this experiment. However. Not as many people are shift workers and even fewer suffer from jet lag. Fortunately. as they have the most to lose from any lapse in quality control. ageing people (who are concerned about their ageing) and people who want to boost their immunity provide a growing market for melatonin marketers in the USA and around the world. Most users. should try only low ‘physiological’ doses. which cannot even be said for water. not unlike many aspects of our modern living. therefore. you never know what might show up in such a preparation. There is no indication that any amount is lethal.

6 g = 33 million pineals!) in the daytime had no beneficial effects on Parkinson patients. Large amounts of melatonin such as these may produce headache and abdominal cramps. though there is no evidence that this occurs. or clarification as to whether this problem has been looked for: “One particular concern is the possibility that taking melatonin may suppress the body’s own production of melatonin.250) and is reassured by the results of early trials with “enormous doses of melatonin”: “Enormous doses of melatonin (50 mg to 6.” (p. depression (in fact depression was worsened) and schizophrenia. 60) The most obvious concern about taking melatonin is dismissed without discussion. She agrees with Dr Norden that melatonin “can be used in clinical trials with safety” and has “very low toxicity” (p. simulating the body’s continued release through the night. Huntington’s chorea. 60) Surprisingly. Professor Arendt does not address this concern (or mention it) in her list of “problems with the therapeutic use of melatonin”. which in theory should be a more natural way to deliver melatonin.251) One wonders if the “Parkinson patients” knew that they were being given the equivalent of 33 million pineals in a single dose – one which stimulates an exclamation mark in the otherwise dry and unemotional . This may possibly be due to a false transmitter effect on serotoninergic systems. Skin pigmentation was not affected: human pigment cells do not resemble amphibian melanophores in pigment migration phenomena.” (p.” (p.23 claim sustained release action for their preparations. Small decreases in plasma LH and FSH were observed.

she provides an argument for using melatonin levels to biochemically label people as “manic depressive”. it is evident from her many references to psychiatric labels that she has not considered deeply or critically the social and political history of psychiatry. restores my sanity at frequent intervals. Earlier.) comparing them with “normals”. In fact. provided a convenient captive population on which to experiment. as in the case of insulin in the 1920s and oestrogen in the 1930s. I hope they feel that their domestic and other supportive efforts have allowed me to produce something worthwhile. and a profound endorsement of the importance of tolerance. nor its contemporary theory and practice.” The surprising admission is that the small Channel Island of Guernsey restores the professor’s sanity at frequent intervals. One gets the impression that she spends more time analysing labelled blood tubes and urine specimens than listening to labelled human beings. It is evident that once human trials with melatonin began in earnest in the 1980s. Finally I have to say that without the tolerance. in the preface to Melatonin and the Mammalian Pineal Gland. While there is no doubt that Professor Arendt knows a great deal about the pineal and melatonin. love and understanding: “The small Channel Island of Guernsey. schizophrenic etc. where most of this was written. psychiatric patients. Professor Arendt makes a surprising admission. She routinely refers to melatonin levels in various categories of patient (Parkinson. understanding and love of my husband and family I would not have been able even to contemplate this book. What sort of insanity does she suffer from when she stays in Surrey for too long? .24 text of Melatonin and the Mammalian Pineal Gland.

You might be told that it secretes a substance called melatonin. This is despite more and more evidence of the organ’s importance in human and in other mammals. and that the pineal was thought. by the French scientist Descartes.25 OMISSION OF INFORMATION ABOUT THE PINEAL If you ask a medical doctor what the pineal organ is and does. that melatonin is made in the pineal from the well-known indole amine. Why it is mysterious is that no other part of the brain has been subject to the same degree of omission. The biggest mystery about the pineal is why most doctors do not know even rudimentary facts about an important organ in the brain. more likely than not. to be the ‘seat of the soul’ back in the 1600s. They not only fail to mention the fact that it secretes serotonin and melatonin. you might be told that the organ also secretes other substances. This theory was refuted by the observation that . and why these facts are omitted from student texts and post-graduate medical texts about the brain – but not from the medical literature altogether. serotonin. If the doctor is wellinformed. and because what has been discovered is uncertain. but there is much more to the story of the pineal and a much more profound mystery associated with the pineal than the important scientific question of what melatonin does. Kotulak. 1990). These facts are all true. but sometimes ignore the organ’s existence completely (see Kandel. it is not presented in textbooks. 1995. I have considered several theories about what has caused it. Neurosciences textbooks contain much detail about the pituitary gland. Since I noticed this anomaly. however the same books often fail to mention the pineal. and the hypothalamus. in 1995. The first was that little is known about the pineal. other important parts of our endocrine system. 1996. Kolb & Whishaw. you will. and that this is produced mainly at night. be told it is a small gland in the brain about which little is known.

But that is not the only vital fact about the pineal that modern doctors are being deprived of by those who decide what is published in textbooks. which occurred in the late 1980s. serotonin has been associated with an extraordinary range of “psychiatric abnormalities”. The Universal Press publication Inside the Brain by Pulitzer prize-winning author Ronald Kotulak makes the following claim in his book. which is on sale in the bookshops of major universities in Australia. These discoveries include the fact that the pineal is a complex organ with an intricate blood supply and a nerve connection to the visual system and the autonomic nervous system. published in 1996: . Corresponding with this removal of physiological information about the pineal. This removal of information about the pineal. meaning that it provides an ‘interface’ between the brain and endocrine system.26 important recent discoveries about the pineal were included in the 1980 edition of the reference medical text Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine (published by McGraw Hill) but excluded from later editions of the same textbook. the pineal organ is conspicuously absent. This allows the glandular cells in the organ to modulate the amount of melatonin and other hormones it releases into the bloodstream according to physiological needs. completely omits the pineal organ in their 1995 edition. affected a range of textbooks published by major corporate publication companies based in the US and UK. Although most parts of the brain are discussed in detail in these books. it is obviously of central importance in understanding the brain-body relationship and the mind-body relationship. As such. The 1980 edition of the textbook describes this function of the organ as that of a “neuro-endocrine transducer”. a subsidiary of Prentice Hall International. Churchill Livingstone and Appleton & Lange. and the same phenomenon can be observed in several other highly respected medical textbooks. including McGraw Hill. The “international edition” of this book. A particularly outrageous example is the respected specialist textbook Essentials of Neural Science and Behavior published by Appleton and Lange.

other neurotransmitters. Medical researchers found that most of these disorders may be treatable with drugs that change serotonin levels. these drugs are now being used or tested for a wide variety of problems. and. and the discussion is centred on drugs which affect serotonin. let alone the concentration of serotonin in the pineal and the conversion of serotonin to melatonin. The 1980 edition of Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine contained a clue as to why information about the anatomy and physiology of the gland may be so conspicuously absent from recent medical and neurological texts: “There is…reason for optimism that our understanding of pineal physiology and pathophysiology. premenstrual syndrome. to a lesser degree. drug abuse. sleep disorders.” (p. borderline personality. and of the possible medical use of pineal compounds.1812) . migraines. Parkinson’s disease. anxiety. Alzheimer’s.27 “Low serotonin is common to many problems in which one or more of our drives bursts out of its chemical corral. eating disorders. including alcoholism.88) The pineal is not mentioned in this book. however the pineal and melatonin are not mentioned. First developed to halt the uncontrollable aggression of schizophrenia and depression. will soon expand. A similar phenomenon can be observed in the Time magazine article of September 1997 titled “The mood molecule” by Michael Lemonick. nor melatonin. sexual perversions. depersonalization disorder. anger attacks. manic-depressive disorder. obsessive-depressive disorders. autism and brain injuries. irritability. In this article serotonin is discussed in depth.” (p. memory impairment.

the indole amine from which melatonin is synthesised. and is also involved in diurnal and other physiological rhythms (Reiter. 1981. The influence of environmental lighting conditions on pineal activity shows that the connection between the visual system and the pineal. is retained in mammals. Arendt. insomnia. which occurs mainly at night and is suppressed by light entering the eyes. . aging. 1995). which has been described as our “biological clock” is known to be involved in the regulation of circadian rhythms in various mammals. SSRI antidepressants.28 Melatonin began to be marketed in the early 1990s as a treatment for jet-lag. The sympathetic innervation of the glandular cells in the pineal is adrenergic – that is. This was discovered by the Dutch neuroscientist J. Nerve cells in the superior cervical ganglia send ascending sympathetic fibres to the pineal. beginning with Prozac. Ariens Kappers. although in mammals most of the fibres from the visual system make a circuitous connection from the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus (above the optic chiasma) to the superior cervical ganglia (in the upper neck). cancer and ‘seasonal affective disorder’ with scant regard for the long-term safety of ingesting the hormone. reptiles and birds. it involves the catecholamine neurotransmitter noradrenaline. well documented in fish. The suprachiasmatic nucleus. in the late 1980s – and with similar nonchalance about long-term and short-term dangers. including humans. Back in the 1960s. and which is concentrated in the pineal (although it is also active as a neurotransmitter in other parts of the brain) were launched. noradrenaline was shown to be involved in the conversion of serotonin to melatonin. which selectively affect serotonin.

1812. although the most obvious nerve tract (the nervus conarii) entering the pineal is connected with the sympathetic ganglia in the upper cervical (neck) region. Professor Josephine Arendt wrote. who maintained for many years that they are “aberrant” fibres (and thus of ‘no significance’).29 The 1980 edition of Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine mentions Kappers’ discovery but not the evidence that suggested the pineal also has other nerve (neuronal) inputs: “In 1960. peptide . notably with the thalamus and the auditory and visual systems. in his 1983 endocrinology text The Pineal Gland explained that. which by itself invalidates the vestige theory of pineal function. the gland also has nerve fibres which enter the organ directly from the brain. Kappers made the important discovery that the primary innervation of the mammalian pineal originates not within the brain but rather from sympathetic cell bodies in the superior cervical ganglia. These enter via the stalk of the pineal and have been largely ignored by researchers. Subsequent studies using the electron microscope revealed that the sympathetic nerve endings terminate directly on pineal parenchymal cells in an anatomic relationship that resembles the synapse. more recently.” (p. emphasis added) The American physician Richard Relkin (Professor of medicine at the Hahnemann Medical College in Pennsylvania). rather than emanate from the pineal) are connected with many parts of the brain. The transmitters concerned with direct innervation may include a number of peptides such as vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP). These fibres (most of which appear to enter. The sympathetic innervation of pineal glandular cells appears to be a new evolutionary adaptation. in Melatonin and the Mammalian Pineal Gland (1995) that: “…there is reason to believe that multiple nervous inputs from peripheral sympathetic innervation and direct central [from the brain] innervation influence pineal function.

from the suprachiasmatic nucleus). oxytocin…and luteinizing hormone releasing hormone. emphasis added) Earlier. deriving from the subcommissural organ.15. is known to be secreted by the posterior lobe of the pituitary. The loops certainly exist. but not only. mentioned by Professor Arendt as one of the transmitters involved in the pineal.” (p. sheep and rabbit a pineal ‘nerve’ is present.30 histidine isoleucine (PHI). arginine vasopressin (AVP). “Initially. This nerve has no known function at present but may be incorporated into the pineal stalk as part of adult central innervation. but there is now substantial evidence for central innervation as described above. it was thought that central neural projections to the pineal formed hairpin loops in the pineal stalk…and thus did not innervate the pineal. Known for many years to be involved in contraction of the uterus during labour. arginine vasotocin (AVT). which carries both efferent [outgoing from the brain] and afferent [incoming to the brain] fibres.” (p. where it stimulates the release of luteinising hormone (LH). with indications of both afferent and efferent fibres. Professor Arendt refers to studies demonstrating direct inputs to the pineal from the hypothalamus (including. she writes. 16. and whose function is presently unexplained: “In the human. is so named because of its wellknown effect on the anterior lobe of the pituitary. LHRH release is thought to be . Luteinising hormone releasing hormone (LHRH). also thought to be active as a transmitter in the pineal. after being synthesised in the hypothalamus. the hormone has recently been associated with feelings of affection and love. In addition to this “central innervation” the pineal is also innervated. emphasis added) The peptide oxytocin. by the “pineal nerve”.

which stimulates the development of the ovarian follicle during the female reproductive cycle in mammals and spermatogenesis in males (Arendt. where it stimulates testosterone production and release in men and oestrogen production and release in women. The release of inhibiting hormones inhibits the release of the melanocyte stimulating hormone (MSH) and luteotropic hormone (LTH). and somatotropic or growth hormone (STH). which is a branch of the internal carotid artery…The portal system carries releasing hormones and release-inhibiting hormones. LH. The releasing hormones stimulate the production and release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). luteinizing hormone (LH). Oestrogen (which is mainly produced by the ovaries) and testosterone (mainly secreted by the testes). Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH).” (p. but its main known action is on the gonads. thyrotropic hormone or thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). The sections in Snell’s Clinical Neuroanatomy (1980) on the “hypophyseal portal system” and “functions of the hypothalamus” contains a useful summary of the integrated function of the hypothalamus and pituitary (hypophysis): “The hypophyseal portal system is formed on each side from the superior hypophyseal artery. secreted into the blood stream by the pituitary. travels all over the body. LTH (also known as prolactin) stimulates the corpus luteum to secrete progesterone and the mammary gland to produce milk.403) . like all the other steroid hormones (including cortisol) are manufactured from cholesterol. which are produced in the neurons of the hypothalamus. follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).31 regulated by noradrenaline and dopamine in the hypothalamus. 1995). to the secretory cells of the anterior lobe of the hypophysis [pituitary]. LHRH also regulates release of the other anterior pituitary gonadotropin.

. and hyperglycemia.404. increased acidity of the gastric juice. “Stimulation of the posterior and lateral nuclei causes sympathetic responses. thus preserving body homeostasis. which include: elevation of blood pressure. the hypothalamus should be regarded as a higher nervous center for the control of lower autonomic centers in the brain-stem and spinal cord. slowing the heart rate. emphasis added) The text also mentions evidence of the involvement of the hypothalamus in “temperature regulation” and “regulation of food and water intake”. again based on “experimental stimulation” (with electrodes): “Stimulation of the lateral region of the hypothalamus initiates eating and increases food intake. This lateral region sometimes is referred to as the hunger center. as Professor Snell continues in Clinical Neuroanatomy (1980): “The hypothalamus has a controlling influence on the autonomic nervous system and appears to integrate the autonomic and neuroendocrine systems. increased motility of the gastrointestinal tract. pupillary dilation. This area is referred to as the satiety center. Essentially.32 The importance of the hypothalamus to control of the endocrine system. these include lowering the blood pressure. cessation of peristalsis in the gastrointestinal tract. salivation. Stimulation of the medial region of the hypothalamus inhibits eating and reduces food intake. contraction of the bladder. and pupillary constriction.” (p. “Electrical stimulation of the hypothalamus in animal experiments shows that the anterior hypothalamic area and the preoptic area influence parasympathetic responses. is equalled by its importance to the autonomic nervous system. acceleration of the heart rate.

nevertheless. conical structure that is attached by the pineal stalk to the diencephalon.33 “Experimental stimulation of other areas in the lateral region of the hypothalamus causes an immediate increase in water intake.” (p. the hypothalamus exerts a careful control on the osmolarity [concentration of salts] in the blood through the secretion of vasopressin by the posterior lobe of the hypophysis [pituitary] and its influence on the distal convoluted tubules of the kidneys. although dependent on the activities of the thalamus. including body temperature. .405) Finally. the limbic system. Sleeping and wakefulness. and the reticular activating system. Professor Snell mentions “control of circadian rhythms” as another function of the hypothalamus. this area is referred to as the thirst center. the inferior part of the base of the stalk contains the posterior commissure. Lesions of the anterior part of the hypothalamus seriously interfere with the rhythm of sleeping and waking.” (p.405) The pineal is. temperature regulation and sympathetic innervation: “The hypothalamus controls many circadian rhythms. and renal secretion. adrenocortical activity. The base of the pineal stalk possesses a recess that is continuous with the cavity of the third ventricle. eosinophil count [a type of white blood cell]. The superior part of the base of the stalk contains the habenular commissure. omitting the pineal from his neuroanatomical perspective on ‘circadian (24 hour) rhythms’. discussed in the 1980 edition of Clinical Neuroanatomy (unlike several contemporary neurosciences texts): “The pineal gland or body is a small. are also controlled by the hypothalamus. It projects backward so that it lies posterior to the midbrain. In addition.

“The pineal gland possesses no nerve cells. Whether melatonin or serotonin is involved in this activity is unknown. prevalent in the 1950s.” (p226-7) THE PINEAL AND SEXUAL FUNCTION The influence of melatonin from the pineal on pituitary hormone secretion in mammals was discovered during an intense period of pineal experimentation (using various animals) in the 1960s and 70s. the pineal gland is seen to be incompletely divided into lobules by connective tissue septa that extend into the substance of the gland from the capsule. and provides an explanation for the earlier clinical finding that pineal tumours can produce precocious puberty. Two types of cells are found in the gland. “The functions of the pineal gland are not fully understood. Melatonin and serotonin are present in high concentration within the gland. This earlier finding. but adrenergic sympathetic fibers derived from the superior cervical sympathetic ganglia enter the gland and run in association with the blood vessels and the pinealocytes. The noradrenalin from the sympathetic fibers probably stimulates the release of these substances from the pinealocytes. that the pineal is . There is increasing evidence that the pineal gland influences the output of gonadotrophins through the hypothalamus. Concretions of calcified material called brain sand progressively accumulate within the pineal gland with age. reported in 1898 by the German physician Otto Huebner. which should have prevented the misconception.34 “On microscopic section. the pinealocytes and the glial cells. It is not known whether these substances leave the pineal through the capillaries or through the pineal recess into the cerebrospinal fluid of the third ventricle.

The theory on which this ‘treatment’ was based assumed. is mentioned by Professor Kappers in the introductory chapter of the first of a 1981 three volume series edited by Russel Reiter. Such extracts. that because destruction of the pineal (such as had been described by Heubner) caused premature puberty. correctly. pineal extracts might contain an “antigonadotrophic” (antifertility) hormone. Berblinger also attributed an inhibitory activity on gonadal development to the pineal. Professor of Anatomy at the University of Texas. in those days. In Volume 1: Anatomy and Biochemistry in The Pineal Gland Kappers writes: “In 1898. and. the human pineal gland is an endocrine organ which. In the 1920s. At the end of the first decade of the 20th century. in infancy.9) From Professor Ariens Kappers’ account it is evident that pineal extracts (made from crushed animal pineals) were being used as a ‘medicine’ in Germany several decades before melatonin was discovered – because of its speculated role in suppressing fertility.35 vestigial. like the Dutch Professor Kappers. were even used in clinical treatment. Huebner was the first to describe a boy showing signs of premature puberty and suffering from a pinealoma. . an international authority on the pineal.” (p. like glanepin. Marburg coined the term ‘pubertas praecox’ or ‘genitosomia praecox’ for the clinical syndrome which is characterized by premature development of the primary and secondary sex organs and a pineal tumour…According to Marburg. the development of the reproductive system…It is not surprising that. while Engel surmised from some experiments that pineal extracts would contain an antigonadotrophic hormone. the pineal gland was termed ‘Keuschheitsdruse’ or chastity gland by some German authors. would normally inhibit the function of the hypothalamus and thus.

and decrease in incidence of estrus. clozapine. melatonin can inhibit human reproductive activity”. She also suggests that. at least in rats. Injections of melatonin administered to adult male rats resulted in a very conspicuous decrease in size of the seminal vesicles. .15) Professor Josephine Arendt. Daily administration of melatonin to maturing female rats appeared. 1995. and says that they were further clarified by the discovery that melatonin inhibited luteinizing hormone release from cultured pituitary gland cells in vitro.” (p. p.274). MDMA and tricyclic antidepressants). The repeated and consistent finding that exogenous melatonin adversely affects reproductive function in rats and other mammals suggests that similar effects might be expected (and predicted) in humans who take melatonin tablets or drugs that influence the metabolism of the indole amines (notably SSRI antidepressants. suitably administered. at least statistically. in fact. Kappers explains: “…the antigonadotrophic effect of melatonin seemed wellestablished.36 During the ‘era of pinealology’ which followed the discovery of melatonin by Aaron Lerner in 1958 it was established beyond reasonable doubt that the hypothesised mammalian ‘antigonadotropic hormone’ was. delay of normal vaginal opening time. while the high incidence of estrus following pinealectomy could be blocked. More recent evidence that the pineal is also involved in maintaining health of the immune system raises further questions about the safety of these drugs. to cause retardation of the normal increase in ovarian weight. by a number of experimental investigations of which only a few will be mentioned here. by melatonin administration. and delayed pubertal development in male and female rats (Arendt. melatonin – at least in rats. in Melatonin and the Mammalian Pineal Gland (1995) describes these observations of the 1960s. for instance. “these results partially support the contention that in large doses.

Melatonin may modify CNS neurotransmitter function as increased levels of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) and serotonin have been noted in the brain after melatonin administration. in the chapter on the “endocrine role of the pineal gland”: “There is evidence for brain. continues with more reasons why the ingestion of melatonin and drugs that affect indoleamines might be expected to interfere with sexual function and other oestrogen and testosterone-dependent (or modulated) physiological activities (and hormonal balance. whereas melatonin administration reduces spontaneous motor activity. another Prentice-Hall medical publication. Pinealectomy [surgical removal of the pineal] leads to increased motor and EEG activity. wrote.37 That melatonin from the pineal has an ‘antigonadotropic’ effect is not in dispute.476) This 1984 text. The evidence for a CNS [central nervous system] effect is derived from the following information. Melatonin implants into the medial preoptic and suprachiasmatic and retrochiasmatic areas of the mouse brain mediates its hypothalamic effect by inhibition of gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) synthesis and secretion. and prolongs the duration of barbiturate induced sleep. nor that this includes effects by the pineal on the pituitary release of luteinising hormone. in the specialist textbook Endocrinology (1984).” (p. Melatonin also decreases the weight of both the testes and the ventral prostate gland of . promotes sleep with slow EEG activity. pituitary and peripheral antigonadotropic actions of melatonin. Professor Mac Hadley of the University of Arizona. more widely): “There is also evidence that exogenous melatonin decreases testicular androgen synthesis and that the indoleamine is inhibitory to the growth response of the rat ventral prostate gland to exogenous testosterone.

38 hypophysectomised [pituitary-excised] rats receiving testosterone.7% of Caucasian girls and 27. The effects of pinealectomies in animals and pineal tumours in humans have further supported this theory – but also indicated that. following a study at the Kansas Children’s Hospital that found 6. Could it be? It is known that exogenous (from outside) administration of melatonin suppresses gonadal (sexual organ) activity – this is thought to occur due to suppression of pituitary gonadotrophins (Luteinizing Hormone. and melatonin may play a role in adrenarche (pubertal changes induced by adrenal androgens) by an action on adrenal steroidogenesis. Melatonin excretion in normal males and females increases at puberty.476) In 1997 it was reported in the Lancet that the age when children reach puberty is falling in the USA. pineal dysfunction was not suspected as being involved in this phenomenon. Pinealectomy enhances the growth response of the seminal vesicles to testosterone in castrated rats and administration of the indoleamine prevents the response to the androgen. This suggests that endogenous melatonin has physiological effects on the gonads and sexual/reproductive function. These include effects on other pituitary hormones. Although it has been known since the 1890s that pineal destruction can cause precocious puberty.2% of AfricanAmerican girls had breast development or pubic hair by the age of seven. natural melatonin has many other physiological effects.” (p. on other parts of the brain and on cells throughout . These results suggest that the inhibitory influence of systematically administrated melatonin on the accessory sex organs may be due to its antagonistic effect at the level of the gonads. and the known involvement of the pineal (and melatonin) in the hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal axis. like the other amines. in particular) and direct effects on the gonads (ovaries and testes).

The latter are of particular importance to an understanding of the mind-body relationship and the brain-body relationship. it has been generally assumed that the visual information that enters the pineal via nerve fibres is concerned only with quantity (intensity and duration) rather than quality (light and visual experience in all its complexity). 4 . The diagram below presents an overview of the connections between the visual system and the pineal: Fig. indoleamine and catecholamine pathways. While there is irrefutable evidence that environmental lighting conditions affect pineal hormone synthesis and secretion (especially that of melatonin). including the intensively studied sympathetic connections and the less well-known direct connections (with the midbrain and diencephalon) allow for much more profound and subtle effects than the commonly cited fact that light entering the eyes suppresses nocturnal melatonin secretion. They also provide further reasons for caution in the ingestion of melatonin or drugs that affect the incompletely understood. The neural connections of the pineal.39 the body. but undoubtedly vital.

p. undoubtedly subjected to more sexually explicit material. the pineal and the immune system is interesting. would lose their powers of resistance. THE PINEAL AND THE IMMUNE SYSTEM The connection between depression. The neural mechanism by which precocious sexual development could result from pre-pubertal sexually-oriented audio-visual experiences (television programs.221) . Such a hypothesis cannot be proved or disproved unless considered. It is generally accepted that psychological depression can cause immune depression – an observation famously made by the Athenian general Thucydides 2500 years ago when describing the effects of a diagnosis of plague: “The most terrible thing of all was the despair into which people fell when they realised that they had caught the plague.40 Children in the “Western World” are. and the theory that watching violent television programs increases violence in society. Of course. particularly the organ/gland’s connection with the visual system. in particular) can be hypothesised in terms of known pineal neural and endocrine connections.” (Thucydides quoted from Clark. no theory can be proved or disproved until it is considered. thus contributing to depression. 1995. This is the case also for the theory that watching television at night may interfere with natural melatonin rhythms. and more sexually-directed messages than was the case 40 years ago – mainly as a consequence of television and the mass-media (and the advertising motto that “sex sells”). and. as a whole. for they would immediately adopt an attitude of utter hopelessness. by giving in this way.

Damage from free radicals is implicated in immune malfunction and several other pathological processes. The molecule acts as a direct scavenger of free radicals in addition to potentiating other antioxidants (Reiter. It also lowers free radical generation by increasing the efficiency of mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation and . Antioxidants are known to counter damage to the immune system from free radicals. It appears that melatonin acts in several ways in this regard. The role of melatonin as an antioxidant provides a rationale for use of melatonin as an ‘anti-aging’ supplement.41 Could the pineal play a role in mediating the known effects of mood on the immune system? Melatonin has been recognized. since free radicals are implicated in several pathological processes associated with aging. including cardiovascular disease and weakening of the immune system (evidenced by an increased incidence of various cancers and increased susceptibility to infections with age). The indole amine is even found in some bacteria. to be a potent antioxidant. et al. taking melatonin for these reasons is not without risk. in recent years. The antioxidant properties of melatonin have been clearly demonstrated by numerous studies since the 1990s. 2003). As mentioned. It should be noted that while melatonin is synthesized mainly in the pineal organ in humans and other mammals (with smaller amounts produced in the retina) this molecule is also found in invertebrates and plants. In these life forms (which obviously lack a pineal) it is thought that its role as an antioxidant is an important physiological function (Reiter et al. and there is little evidence that taking melatonin supplements is good for the health – there is considerable difference between optimizing endogenous production of melatonin and taking exogenous supplements. 2003).

it may explain findings.42 reducing electron leakage. according to Becker. The main proponent of the theory that the pineal functions as a magnetic sense organ is the American scientist Robert Becker. brain. Though controversial. In his book Cross Currents (1990) Becker presents evidence that the pineal is a component of a poorly recognized “magnetic organ’’ in humans and in other animals. THE PINEAL AND ELECTROMAGNETIC FIELDS A more controversial area of possible pineal function relates to magnetic fields. It is generally accepted that such a magnetic sensitivity does exist in birds. et al. melatonin stimulates various anti-oxidative enzymes. This magnetic organ senses the earth’s geomagnetic field. skin and kidney). . 2005). Other studies have shown an association between low melatonin levels and the development of various cancers (breast. that the pineal organ is involved in our sense of direction. While this aspect of possible pineal function is speculative. from the 1970s. lung. In addition. and that the pineal is involved in migratory behavior in birds. and is affected also by artificial magnetic fields caused by human activity. There is also evidence that exogenous melatonin supplementation reduces mortality from a range of cancers (Mills. this is another potentially fruitful area of interest for future research.

In addition the pineal may play a magnetosensory role in humans. far from being a useless vestigial organ. REFERENCES Adeloye. W. Neuroendocrinology. Prentice-Hall: USA Ham. the pineal is an important part of the brain. The pineal is an integral part of the endocrine system. and Felson. 122 (3) pp 503-507 Arendt. A. (1972) Physiological and Radiological Implications of a Low Incidence of Pineal Calcification in Nigeria. M. (1995) Melatonin and the Mammalian Pineal Gland. Oxford University Press: USA/UK Daramola. G and Oluwu. (1974) Incidence of Normal Pineal Gland Calcification in Skull Roentgenograms of Black and White Americans. B. Bloomsbury: UK Clark. (1990) Cross Currents. 9 (1) pp 41-57 Hadley.43 CONCLUSION Research over the past fifty years has proved beyond doubt that. immune function and sexual function. J. as it is known to in birds. and may also be involved in regulation of mood (along with many other parts of the brain). A. R. (1984) Endocrinology. producing the neurohormone melatonin which has effects on sleep. Lippincott: USA/Canada . A. (1957) Histology. Becker. (1995) At War Within. American Journal of Roentgenology. Research in the future promises to provide more insights into the many mysteries of the pineal organ.

Mugondi. B. and Czarnocki. pp 594-599 Murphy. Z. R. Journal of Pineal Research. Raven: USA Reiter. S and Poltera. 39(4):360-6. (2005) Melatonin in the treatment of cancer: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials and meta-analysis. R. Guyatt G. volume 1 (Reiter. Mayo. (1996) Beyond Prozac. (1990) Fundamentals of Human Neuropsychology. Leon. (1968) Carotid Cerebral Angiography in Uganda: a review of 100 consecutive cases. R. chapter in The Pineal Gland. N. 45. Acta Biochimica Polonica. J. Wu P. 50 (4) 1129-1146 Relkin. Harper-Collins: UK Reiter. 49. Seely D. CRC: USA Kolb. pp 47-60 Norden. British Journal of Radiology. R. Sainz. editor). (1976) Pineal Gland Calcification in Ugandans: a radiological study of 200 isolated pineal glands. I.. Appleton & Lange: USA Kappers.44 Kandel.Tan.. (ed) (1995) Essentials of Neural Science and Behavior. E. D. A. East African Medical Journal. Andrews and McMeel: USA Mills E. A (1981) Anatomy and Biochemistry. J. (1996) Inside the Brain. and Whishaw. M. Elsevier Biomedical: USA . Freeman: USA Kotulak. (1983) The Pineal Gland.. R. (2003) Melatonin as an antioxidant: biochemical mechanisms and pathophysiological implications in humans. R. (1984) The Pineal Gland.

Petersdorf.. Brown: USA Wurtman. R. J. (editors) McGraw-Hill: USA .. Isselbacher. (1980) Clinical Neuroanatomy. E.45 Snell. chapter in Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine (9th edition). R. Little. Braunwald. Adams. R.. R.. (1980) Diseases of the Pineal Gland. K. Wilson.

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