What Is Melanin And How It Affects Your Health?

There is so much variety in skin colors that we often see around us. The difference in ethnicity is one main reason to see these different shades of skin. Some people have dark, other have fair, pale, white or pinkish skin.

This difference is all due to an enzyme, which is called tyrosinase. It is scientifically proven that this enzyme controls the production of another thing called melanin.

Melanin is a compound, which determines the fairness levels of the skin. More melanin that you have, more are the chances to have a dark skin. If your body is producing fewer melanin levels, you will have a lighter skin.

How to understand the role of Melanin?

Melanin is basically a derivative of amino acid tyrosine. It is derived from a Greek word and it literally means black or dark. It is a broader term, which we use, for a number of pigments or colors that are naturally occurring.

Oxidation of tyrosine, followed by a polymerization reaction produces melanin. Inside the living bodies, it is produced in specialized cells called melanocytes, which only produce melanin.

Melanin is of three types.

  • Eumelanin
  • Pheomelanin
  • Neuromelanin

Among these three, eumelanin is the one, which is most abundant. It is further divided into two types, one is a brown second is a black eumelanin.

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Roles of melanin in humans

In humans, the importance of melanin is that it is the primary color of the skin. It is not just inside the skin but your hair; iris of the eye, brain tissues, and various other parts also has it.

Melanocytes which are the specialized cells producing melanin are located on the basal layer of the epidermis. When we compare two different individuals on the basis of their different skin shades, it is the melanin levels, which vary.

Some people or specific ethnic groups have some considerable levels of melanin in them. Contrary to which, some people have almost no melanin synthesis in their body. It is not a normal thing but a disease that we know as albinism.

In human skin, the process of synthesizing melanin is started when it is exposed to the sun. The UV radiations of the sun, which otherwise cause to tan the skin are actually the causative agents of melanin production.

When your skin has melanin in it, it is more readable to absorb the sunlight. To your surprise, the melanin has an ability to absorb 99.9% of the light directly. This is not always a benefit. It can go the other way and cause damage too.

This property makes melanin vulnerable to get maximum sunlight, which can sometimes cause damage to the skin. The UV-B radiations damage the skin and initiate the risk of cancer and other skin conditions.

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Roles of Neuromelanin inside your body

Neuromelanin is a subtype of melanin which is majorly the melanin produced inside the brain. There is not enough data on it, yet the assumptions are that it increases in quantity when you age naturally.

Neuromelanin helps the body to balance the flow of metals inside. It ensures that there is never too much of them inside your body or too less. In both ways, the body can act abnormally which is why neuromelanin acts as a regulatory body.

Pheomelanin

Pheomelanin is sometimes called phaeomelanin, which is a pinkish hue of the skin. All your body parts that have a pink tone in them have this specialized type of melanin in it.

The concentration of pheomelanin determines the darkness of the shade of your skin. Mainly it is concentrated in your lips, nipples, sexual parts etc.

In your hair when brown eumelanin and pheomelanin are present together, the result is a strawberry blonde shade, which is one of the rarest hair shades. If only the eumelanin brown is present, the result is blonde hair.

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Deafness and melanin

It is not a clear thing but melanin has roles in hearing too. It is still under study that how does this work. But as per a research from the past, it is common to see that people who suffer from hearing problems or hearing loss had low levels of melanin in them.

They were studied to have low amounts of melanocytes that are the cells respond to make melanin. It can be a helpful source to show the linkage between these two factors. However, the reason is not clear yet.

High levels of melanin in the body

High levels of melanin inside the body are also dangerous. It increases the risk to develop a vitamin D deficiency that is proven by the research. The body takes Vitamin D from sunlight directly.

When you are exposed to the sunlight the UV radiations from the skin help to activate vitamin D production. Melanin protects the body from absorbing too much of light by acting as a barrier between the sun and the body.

But it is not always the helpful way. It can make the dark toned people more susceptible to have a vitamin D deficiency. A deficiency of vitamin D can bring many diseases of the bones such as osteoporosis, rickets, and others.

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Low level of melanin in the body

Albinism is a condition in which the people have no melanin production in their body. Such people are known as albinos. It is basically a deficiency in enzyme tyrosine, which is essentially required to make melanin.

People, which have albinism, are at the highest risk of skin cancer. In some way, melanin is the protection against the sunrays for the skin. When the body is not producing any amount of it, the body becomes more susceptible to the diseases.

Genetic disorders and melanin

If you don’t know, melanin is said to be the root cause of nine different types of oculocutaneous albinism, which is an autosomal recessive disorder. Certain ethnicities are more likely to catch it than the rest. It is particularly common in people from Africa.

Another form of albinism, which is genetic, is called the yellow oculocutaneous albinism. It has a high prevalence worldwide. It is particularly high in Swiss and German ethnicity holders. Patients with this disease have white hair and skin at birth.

The common skin problems like freckles and moles are developed when a high concentration of melanin accumulates inside the skin. It is more common in pale toned people.

How to make your body produce melanin more?

Melanin is a naturally occurring substance, which is a part of your body. You can not technically govern its levels inside the body but there are certain ways to enhance the production. Trying the following steps may help.

 

Take care of your skin. Nourish it whenever and however possible. If your body has a deficiency of vitamins and minerals, make sure that your diet has enough of them. Consuming vitamin C and vitamin E are significantly helpful.

If you have the least exposure to the sunlight, consider taking vitamin D supplements. It is a good idea to boost the vitamin D production in this way. Make sure that you have sufficient omega 3 fatty acids in your diet. They are very helpful to moisturize the skin

Don’t forget to take your sunlight dose. If by any chance you live in a region where it is sunny most of the times, it is indeed a blessing. But make sure that you are wearing your UV protection serum.

Sources 

  • http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1751-1097.2007.00226.x/abstract
  • https://www.hindawi.com/archive/2014/498276/
  • https://www.termedia.pl/Journal/-7/Streszczenie-20287