What is Blue Light?
The eye is made of incredibly complex parts that contribute to one of our most important ways of interpreting the world: sight. Blood capillaries are one of the most complex as they transfer necessary nutrients to the eye that allow it to function properly. So, it’s important to get all the necessary chemicals and enzymes that the eye needs for optimal function. Throughout history, the main threat to these functions has been age and disease. However, now the human eye faces a new potential threat: technology. More specifically, blue light. Blue light, also referred to as blue-violet or violet light, can best be described as high-energy, short-wave light considered to be part of the visible light spectrum (1). It can be found in nature as the sun emits blue light and causes the sky to take on the blue tone that many often associate with lovely weather. However, other sources of blue light such as fluorescent lighting, LED TV screens, smartphones, tablets and laptops have many healthcare professionals concerned. They worry not only about the effects that these extra sources of blue light will have on the eyes in the long term, but also for those who have been deemed to be part of the susceptible group (i.e. those who have had cataract surgery, those who have hereditary retinal diseases).
What Science Says
Though some argue that it is much too soon to say blue light will have a negative impact on the eye health of an individual, there has been research that points to damage to the eye as a considerable possibility. Research has shown that the eye is not capable of protecting the retina from blue light in the same way it can protect against UV light (2). This fact coupled with the amount of time people spend using devices and indoor lighting have raised concerns for many eye doctors and other healthcare professionals about the long-term effects that blue light will have on people’s sight. The problem isn’t just that people are exposing themselves to blue light. In fact, it has been shown that certain wavelengths of blue light can help boost mood as well as alertness, memory, and even cognitive function. The risk that researchers and healthcare providers see is in the number of man-made sources that now exist as sources for blue light which is believed to lead to overexposure.
In an article published by the American Optometric Association, they discuss the risks related to overexposure saying: “Early research shows that overexposure to blue light could contribute to eye strain and discomfort and may lead to serious conditions in later life such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which can cause blindness” (3). It is believed that the results of this overexposure would not be immediate but would in fact turn up much later in life. It’s also worth noting that some research has shown that blue light can not only cause damage that can increase the likelihood of an individual to develop diseases like AMD but can also prematurely age the eyes and lead to issues like eye fatigue and dry eye, both of which occur after a much shorter period of time and use (3). This raises concern as the number of cases of AMD, which currently stands at 8 million, will increase by as much as 50% by the year 2020 (4).
Supplements for Eyesight
It’s no secret that it’s almost impossible to ask people to completely abandon their beloved blue light-emitting devices. They’ve become necessary to function in the world, both socially and professionally. So, what can someone do to protect themselves or their children from developing AMD or other issues with sight? The simple answer is to use supplements to protect and maintain eyesight. More specifically, lutein and zeaxanthin. Both of which are found in the eye naturally and are collectively referred to as macular carotenoids. Macular carotenoids are responsible for protecting the eye from light-induced damage, making them the ultimate competitor against the damage that blue light is believed by some to cause to the retina.
There have been epidemiological studies that show evidence that an increased consumption of lutein and zeaxanthin are associated with a lowered risk for developing AMD which has an increasing prevalence in the elderly population, and what health professionals fear will be the outcome of long term exposure to blue light (5). In a 2005 study of both lutein and zeaxanthin, it was noted that carotenoids used to protect ocular tissue against oxidation caused by light can act as a filter to damaging blue light (5). Filtration of blue light at the macula is believed to enhance visual performance due to the reduction of chromatic aberration, which results in the failure to be able to focus.
Additional research has also shown that children are at risk as their crystalline lenses are more transparent, and therefore more susceptible to short wavelengths, like those associated with blue light. As schools become more environmentally conscious and aim to cut back their costs, the switch to more LED lighting and computer-based classrooms has caused healthcare professionals to worry about the risk that exposure in the learning environment also poses to children (6).
Taking supplements is useful, but most times it’s important to also be mindful of one’s diet. As the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) points out, people with poor diet are more susceptible to diseases like AMD and may increase their chances by exposing themselves to blue light regularly (7). In fact, the Canadian Association of Optometrists notes says that “A healthy diet, high in leafy green vegetables and colorful fruits, may help to increase the levels of the protective pigments in the retina and mitigate some damaging effects of blue light” (8). Lutein can be found in high quantities in fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, grapes, kale, kiwi fruit, spinach, yellow carrots and zucchini (9). Many of these foods also include the beneficial antioxidant zeaxanthin, which can also be found in egg yolk, English peas, orange, saffron, tangerines and turnip greens (10). Many of these foods are readily available and paired with a supplement regimen should provide optimal protection against UV rays as well as blue-violet light.
Our world is heading toward more technology. It’s important to consider the impact that technology has on our lives when we look at how it has changed our lives socially and politically, however it’s also important to consider what technology does to our body. Though it allows us to immerse ourselves in worlds that we would not see otherwise, it’s important to consider how it affects our vision and our ability to experience things in real life. Supplements containing lutein as well as zeaxanthin are sure to offer the protection that children and adults need to ensure that their eye health is maintained, but supplements should be paired with good habits and a health to ensure the best protection and maintenance of eye health. WF
1. “Can Blue Light Cause AMD?” https://www.rnib.org.uk/nb-online/blue-light-amd
2. “Blue Light-Is There Risk of Harm?” https://opto.ca/health-library/blue-light-is-there-risk-of-harm
3. “The 21st Century Child: Increased Technology Use May Lead to Future Eye Health and Vision Issues” https://www.aoa.org/newsroom/the-21st-century-child-increased-technology-use-may-lead-to-future-eye-health-and-vision-issues
4. “Understanding Blue Light” http://macularhope.org/understanding-blue-light/
5. “Macular carotenoids: lutein and zeaxanthin.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.
6. “Seeing Blue: The Impact of Excessive Blue Light Exposure” https://www.reviewofoptometry.com/article/seeing-blue-the-impact-of-excessive-blue-light-exposure
7. “ Can blue light cause AMD?” https://www.rnib.org.uk/nb-online/blue-light-amd
8. “Blue Light – Is there risk of harm?” https://opto.ca/health-library/blue-light-is-there-risk-of-harm
9. “Lutein” https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-754/lutein
10. “ What is Zeaxanthin? + Side Effects” https://www.whatisdryeye.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine August 2018