Digital device use has long been on the rise, but now during the COVID-19 pandemic, our screen time has skyrocketed. Whether we are teleconferencing, homeschooling, virtually connecting with family and friends, watching television, streaming shows or gaming, screen time is a constant fixture in our new daily routines.
This increased use of digital devices has also increased our exposure to blue light, which has raised health concerns, especially for our eyes.
Blue light is part of the rainbow of colors, which comprise the visible spectrum of light. Many sources of light, including the sun, light bulbs and digital devices, emit this high-energy wavelength of light. Prolonged exposure can impact eye health and sleep patterns.
Blue light plays a role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm. Spending long hours in front of our smartphones, laptops, tablets, computer monitors and televisions, especially at night, may disrupt the sleep cycle and impact sleep quality. More importantly, blue light may cause one of the more common complaints of prolonged screen time, which is digital eyestrain characterized by difficulty focusing, blurred vision, dry eye and light sensitivity. While there is no evidence linking blue light to permanent vision loss, we should be concerned about protecting our eyes from too much exposure for better health and performance.
How can we protect our eyes against blue light exposure given our unavoidable need for digital devices and increased levels of screen time? Though blue blocking glasses or screen filters are commonly used, there are two more powerful and natural ways to safeguard against the potential harmful effects of blue light. The most effective ways are proper nutrition and supplementation with three essential nutrients that our eyes need.
Did you know nature has actually provided our eyes with internal blue light protection? Three pigments called lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin, collectively referred to as the “macular carotenoids,” can be found in high concentrations within the macula, or central retina. These pigments act as a frontline defense for your eyes by filtering high-energy blue light and functioning as our innate blue blockers. Meso-zeaxanthin is especially important to this filtering because it is the most potent antioxidant of the macular carotenoids.
The problem is that our bodies simply cannot make these protective pigments, which our eyes need, so we must consume them as nutrients, either from food or supplements.
Dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and collard greens and yellow and orange bell peppers, cilantro, parsley, egg yolk and corn, are great sources for lutein and zeaxanthin. Meso-zeaxanthin is trickier to find in food, so the best source is supplementation. Still, obtaining sufficient amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin from diet alone can be challenging. Clinical research suggests the optimum levels of lutein are at least 6-20 mg/day and of zeaxanthin are 1-4 mg/day. The fact is most people only get 1-2 mg of lutein and less than 1 mg of zeaxanthin each day.
Finding a supplement that contains all three macular carotenoids – lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin – is ideal. When I was researching for my book, “The Macular Degeneration Prevention Protocol,” I found one ingredient called, Lutemax 2020, which provides all three and has been clinically researched for blue light benefits. You can find this ingredient in a variety of blue light and eye health supplements, including gummies, which may be used by children and adults.
In doing further work with Lutemax 2020, I found strong scientific benefits in multiple studies that demonstrate its ability to increase the thickness of the protective layer of macular carotenoids in the retina, which protects retinal cells against blue light. One double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that supplementing with the three macular pigments reduced eye fatigue, eyestrain, and headache frequency associated with prolonged digital device use. There were also improvements in multiple measures of visual performance and improved sleep quality.
Our society’s need for digital technology has accelerated significantly during the current pandemic. With extended screen time now being the “new normal” not only for adults, but also for children, it is important to be proactive when protecting our eyes from the effects of blue light and ensuring optimal visual performance despite the high digital demand use.