Could This Amino Acid Eventually Become the Next Melatonin?

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woman taking sleeping pills with water

Any discussion about melatonin comes loaded with opinions — for some people, it’s a must-have to get to sleep. For others, it can bring up some hesitation, especially around whether it will become habit-forming. But, melatonin isn’t the only sleep-regulating substance gaining attention on the market to help with extra zzz’s.

Recent research from Osaka University, Japan, has discovered a new amino acid known as D-alanine and explored its role in the regulation of the circadian rhythm. (1) In the study, D-alanine was found in urine and blood and its levels fluctuate during the circadian rhythm. This fluctuation allowed researchers to identify D-alanine as a connector between gluconeogenesis in the kidney and the circadian clock. Gluconeogenesis is a metabolic process within the body to produce glucose. The study also discovered that sleep regulated D-alanine levels. All that is to say, in short, that they are researching a substance connected to our circadian rhythm, with potential to be further explored for additional uses.

This discovery gives researchers hope that they can develop treatments for metabolic diseases, such as diabetes. It might also make it possible to normalize circadian rhythms in sleep disorders, especially for shift workers.

“Through these experiments, we were able to show that D-alanine is a link between gluconeogenesis in the kidney and the circadian clock,” says senior author Tomonori Kimura in a news release, “and that D-alanine activates gluconeogenesis through the circadian transcriptional network.” 

The release further explains that the circadian clock is a “natural oscillation” in our bodies that aligns with a full day (24 hour) cycle, and impacts multiple systems and processes in our bodies. The research shows promise with blood sugar issues and using D-alanine as well, such as for those with diabetes.

But, as with any new discovery, there will be a lull between this finding and additional research, before people struggling with sleep, blood sugar, or related issues might benefit from this knowledge — or, one day, get to test out new products with an ingredient that can mimic the effects of melatonin. So, in the meantime, if you are looking to regulate your circadian rhythm to optimize sleep, try this:

  • Stick to a consistent sleep schedule when possible
  • Go for a walk in the morning
  • Cut down on technology use in the evening
  • Have a light meal around dinner time
  • Create a calm, dark sleeping environment
  • Minimize stress where you can

Also, you can consider talking to your medical team about melatonin, since recent research on D-alanine is promising, but not yet advanced enough to help, at least not tonight.

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  • 1. Sakai, Shinsuke1,2,3; Tanaka, Youichi4; Tsukamoto, Yusuke2,3; Kimura-Ohba, Shihoko2,3; Hesaka, Atsushi1,2,3; Hamase, Kenji2,5; Hsieh, Chin-Ling5; Kawakami, Eiryo2,6,7,8; Ono, Hiraku9; Yokote, Kotaro9; Yoshino, Mitsuaki10; Okuzaki, Daisuke11; Matsumura, Hiroyo2,3; Fukushima, Atsuko2,3; Mita, Masashi12; Nakane, Maiko12; Doi, Masao4; Isaka, Yoshitaka1,*; Kimura, Tomonori1,2,3,*. d-Alanine Affects the Circadian Clock to Regulate Glucose Metabolism in Kidney. Kidney360 ():10.34067/KID.0000000000000345, December 15, 2023. | DOI: 10.34067/KID.0000000000000345

Alexandra Frost

Alexandra Frost

Alexandra Frost is a Cincinnati-based freelance journalist, content marketing writer, copywriter, and editor focusing on health and wellness, parenting, real estate, business, education, and lifestyle. Away from the keyboard, Alex is also mom to her four sons under age 7, who keep things chaotic, fun, and interesting. For over a decade she has been helping publications and companies connect with readers and bring high-quality information and research to them in a relatable voice.  She has been published in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Glamour, Shape, Today's Parent, Reader's Digest, Parents, Women's Health, and Insider.

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