What is the pineal gland?
The pineal gland is a very small gland in the centre of the brain shaped like a pine cone, which is where it gets its name. It is part of the endocrine system. It produces a hormone called melatonin.
What does melatonin do?
Melatonin helps the body control sleep patterns the day and night cycle (the internal body clock). Melatonin levels are highest before the time you usually go to sleep and lower during the day.
Melatonin also has an impact on the hormones that affect the menstrual cycle and as an anti-oxidant it helps to protect cells from damage.
What medical conditions are related to the pineal gland?
Medical conditions related to the pineal gland are very rare. However, cysts or tumours of the pineal gland may cause symptoms such as a change in vision, headaches, nausea or seizures.
If you are suspected of having a pineal gland tumour, you will need to see a specialist for further advice.
Melatonin supplements and sleep
Because the hormone melatonin is important in sleep, sometimes people take a melatonin supplement to help them sleep. This might be in situations where someone is travelling and having difficulty adjusting to a new time zone (jet lag) or adjusting to working on a night shift. Some people use it to treat insomnia.
However, there is still a lot that we don’t know about melatonin and more research is needed to understand how it works in the body.
If you are thinking about taking a melatonin supplement, it is important to talk to your doctor first.
More informationLearn more about the endocrine system and the different hormones released by the endocrine glands.
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Last reviewed: November 2020