Overexposure: Carotenoids and Blue Light Protection

By: Robert M. Blair, Ph.D., Strategic Research Scientist

 

In today’s technologically-driven world, many of us are exposed to digital screens and the blue light they emit. In fact, it has been reported that 60% of Americans use digital devices for more than 5 hours each day and that 70% of Americans use two or more digital devices at the same time [1]. Because of this, 65% of Americans experience digital eye strain and that number climbs to 75% for individuals who use two or more devices at the same time.

While evidence is still on the sparse side, it is thought that this repeated exposure to blue light might damage the retina and over time may be a factor in the development of age-related macular degeneration [2]. Additionally, excessive exposure to blue light at night may disrupt circadian rhythms and sleep patterns [3].

Fortunately, there are things we can do to protect our eyes from this overexposure to blue light. One study recently reported that supplementation with a mixture of carotenoids (lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin), 93% of which was lutein + zeaxanthin, can protect our eyes from blue light exposure [4].

In this study, 48 study volunteers (18 – 25 years of age) were randomly assigned to receive either a placebo supplement or a carotenoid supplement (24 mg) daily for 6 months. Measurements of visual performance, sleep quality, and physical indicators of excess screen time (headache, blurry vision, neck strain, etc.) were taken at the beginning of the study and after 3 and 6 months of supplementation.

The results of this study showed that supplementation with 24 mg lutein + zeaxanthin + meso-zeaxanthin improved temporal vision and sleep quality after 3 months compared to the placebo group. Additionally, other measures of visual performance (contrast sensitivity, glare, and recovery from photo-stress) were improved as were some physical indicators of excess screen time (eye strain, eye fatigue, and headache frequency) after 6 months of supplementation with these carotenoids. These benefits are likely due to the deposition of these carotenoids, known as macular pigments, in the retina of the eye, where their antioxidant properties help protect the retina from cumulative damage.

These results clearly show the potential benefits of lutein and zeaxanthin for protecting our eyes from blue light exposure, but there’s more we can do; the Vision Council recommends the following:

  • Take a 20-second break every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away.
  • Use computer eyewear specifically designed to block blue light, reduce glare, and reduce eye fatigue.
  • Sit an arm length away from the computer screen and make the text larger for ease of reading.
  • Position your screen slightly below eye level to keep your eyes at a relaxed position.
  • Try to match room lighting to your devices’ brightness to reduce eye strain.

Following these tips and supplementing with lutein and zeaxanthin are easy steps we can take to support our eye health in the face of our ever-increasing use of digital devices.

 

References

  1. The Vision Council Digital Eye Strain Report 2016: Eyes overexposed – the digital device dilemma. http://2014.thevisioncouncil.org/blog/2016-digital-eye-strain-report-released
  2. Tosini G, Ferguson I, Tsubota K. Effects of blue light on the circadian system and eye physiology. Mol Vis 2016; 22:61-72.
  3. Hatori M, Gronfier C, Van Gelder RN, Bernstein PS, Carreras J, Panda S, Marks F, Sliney D, Hunt CE, Hirota T, Furukawa T, Tsubota K. Global rise of potential health hazards caused by blue light-induced circadian disruption in modern aging societies. NPJ Aging Mech Dis 2017; 3:9.
  4. Stringham JM, Stringham NT, O’Brien KJ. Macular carotenoid supplementation improves visual performance, sleep quality, and adverse physical symptoms in those with high screen time exposure. Foods 2017; 6(7): e47.