What’s the best thing you can do for a loved one suffering from dementia? Open the shades and let the light shine through during the day, and give them melatonin supplements at night. This according to a recent study out of the Netherlands this month. The research, conducted at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience in Amsterdam, showed that increasing light exposure, either from the sun or from fluorescent lights, along with nightly melatonin supplementation, helped elderly people suffering from dementia improve their sleep, mood, and overall well-being.

The study looked at 189 elderly Dutch women who were split into groups according to whether they were exposed to bright lights, given melatonin supplements, or both. Other groups were given standard Alzheimer’s medication, while others were given nothing at all. They then looked at various mental factors such as cognitive function, mood (as in depression and agitation), and sleep function. The researchers found that the group receiving bright lights and melatonin fared as well as those on the Alzheimer’s medication. Considering the side effects which usually accompany the medication (nausea mostly), these findings offer a great deal of encouragement.

I find this study especially interesting as I believe we can extrapolate these observations to the general population. I highly advocate both regular sun exposure and melatonin supplementation for overall health and well-being. Think about it: the source of all energy in the solar system is our sun. Every plant, animal, microbe, fungus or algae needs energy either directly from the sun, or by consuming another energetic life form. Either way, the energetic chain begins with the sun. Nothing could survive without the life-giving force of our primary star. So why would anybody avoid it? Yes, I know: skin cancer propaganda is at its highest–dermatologist need to market too–but we all need sunlight, plain and simple.

Melatonin is a naturally produced hormone that helps regulate our circadian rhythms, or our sleep cycles (you’ve read about it in my book, right?). It is also a great natural remedy for insomnia. Melatonin has many other non-sleep related benefits. For instance, it has antioxidant properties. It has also been studied as a therapy against certain cancers. And it has also shown promise as an agent to boost memory and learning ability. Throw this in with the current findings on dementia, and what you’ve got is a very useful little substance.

One does need to be careful with both sun exposure and melatonin, though. Obviously, too much sun-worship can cause serious health problems. And taking melatonin every day can cause dependence, nasty withdrawals, and sluggishness when taken in too large a concentration. So I recommend taking it a couple time a week only, and then laying off completely for longer stretches, like say a month or so. Other than that, both practices should be highly beneficial and therefore done by everyone.

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