The Dark Side of Blue Light
There is a major new health risk that very few people are paying attention to, but may be harming you more than you think. The latest boogeyman on the health horizon is actually something that doesn’t get you in the dark, but in the light. Artificial light that is. Blue light may be damaging your eyes, which you need to protect as you only get one pair. Blue light (ranging on the visual spectrum from 380nm to 500nm) is essential to your vision but the problem arises that we are exposed to more of it than ever before.
Blue light is emitted from the sun, and it is very important for human health. This wavelength of light has been shown to be very influential in regulating our bodies circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm disruption impairs blood sugar control, and impairs the secretion of leptin, a hormone that tells us when we are full. When your circadian rhythm is disrupted it can lead to the development of other diseases. Blue light exposure outside of normal daylight hours disrupts your circadian rhythm. Fluorescent and LED lights, screens – including televisions, computers, smartphones, and tablets, all produce blue light. It is these devices, that when used for long periods and used outside of normal daylight hours, causes health problems.
People are using blue light emitting devices more than ever. Being exposed to blue light after daylight hours has been associated with increased fatigue the following day. Blue light damages the retina over time which can lead to macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss in Canada. Our reliance on technology for communication has created this new threat. Research by Common Sense Media, found the average teenager in the US, spends 9 hours per day engaged with media. Teens spend approximately 2 hours per day staring at their phone. It is not just teenagers that use screens excessively. Many adults spend their days tied to computer screens and many work well into the evening or spend their off time staring at an LED television. All of this blue light exposure can be detrimental.
There are ways to combat this blue light. Obviously limiting your screen time is your best option, but if that is not an option take measures to reduce exposure to the blue spectrum. There are applications that you can get for your electronic devices that can reduce the amount of blue light that is emitted. Many of these programs will actually mimic the local sun, slowly dimming the amount of blue in the evening, and slowly increasing it in the morning.
There are home options available as well that can help with your overall blue light exposure. There are special low blue light emitting light bulbs available. These bulbs replace standard LED bulbs and emit a much reduce spectrum and intensity of blue light. There are also special screen filters that you can get for computers, televisions and other screens in your house. If you suffer from sleep problems or have a strong family history of degenerative eye conditions, it may be a good idea to consider your overall lighting environment.
When you have a lot of exposure due to circumstances beyond you control there are even portable blue light strategies, such as blue light blocking glasses. These glasses have special lenses that will filter out blue light.
Our bodies also have some natural blue light blocking systems. There are special pigments found in our eyes that can filter this light. A few of these pigments, lutein and zeaxanthin, do a remarkable job of protecting our macula. Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoid pigments found in our diet, especially in leafy greens such as kale, spinach and collard greens. It is concentrated in the macula, a pigment rich area of our. These carotenoids neutralize blue light and protect our macula. The higher our blue light exposure, the higher our requirements become. Many of us do not consume enough lutein and zeaxanthin, so supplements are now a common choice as a source.
A newer addition to the battle against blue light is another carotenoid compound called astaxanthin. Astaxanthin is found in relatively low amounts in our diet, with the exception of pacific salmon, red sea bream, red trout, shrimp, crab, and lobster. As many of us don’t consume these often, supplementing is a good way to ensure adequate intake. Astaxanthin is a remarkable compound that is 4 times stronger an antioxidant than lutein. Most supplemental forms of astaxanthin are produced using a special algae called hematococcus pluvialis. During farming, it is exposed to high amounts of blue light to induce it to produce astaxanthin. The algae produces the compound to protect itself from the damage of the blue light. It is this very benefit that humans can derive when using astaxanthin.
The Canadian Association of Optometrists makes recommendations around blue light, such as keeping children under 2 away from screens altogether, and limiting children age 5 to 18 to under 2 hours per day. Based on survey studies though, we see that people are using higher levels than these recommendations. It is important to acknowledge that our average behaviour often puts us into an unhealthy exposure range so we need to make a concerted effort to reduce our risk. Some new research is even linking blue light to cataract development. Even if you make the change now to reduce blue light, there is probably damage that has already occurred.
All of these compounds discussed, lutein, zeaxanthin and astaxanthin are fat soluble. This is what makes them so effective, as the eye is mostly made up of fat. The difficulty is that many people have impaired bile secretion, or in many cases have had a gall bladder removal for medical reasons. In these cases, people may have inhibited uptake of these nutrients so it is often recommended to take an digestive aid with bile to help in fat breakdown and absorption if you have difficulty in this area or just want to maximize effect.
These compounds are also often concentrated in HDL cholesterol so combining with a fish oil supplement can be effective for ensuring proper transport to the eye. Increasing egg consumption is also a good idea as egg yolks are a source of lutein and zeaxanthin and help increase HDL levels as well.
Blue light is quickly becoming recognized as a leading threat to our health. It is dangerous because it generally creates problems gradually over time, making them hard to notice. It is also harmful as we are exposed to levels we have never seen before in human history. New threats require new approaches and supplementing our diets to ensure adequate protection is a good idea. Making changes to your environment at home is also very important, adding screen filters and choosing low blue light bulbs to protect yourself and your family.
By: Dr. Jonathan Beatty ND,
Education & Formulation with Prairie Naturals