If You Use a Computer or Smartphone, Read This!


Chances are, you’re reading this article on a computer monitor or other electronic device. As of 2014, 1 over 80% of the population in the United States, Canada, and the UK and other European countries had an internet connection.

While some people use computers or smartphones to check email or social media sites, for others, their livelihood depends upon it. Spending eight or more hours in front of a computer monitor five days per week is the norm for a growing number of working individuals.

Although many people are aware of the damaging effects to the eyes caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays, not everyone realizes the danger of chronic exposure to blue light emitted by electronic devices. While sunlight consists of approximately 25% to 30% blue light, computer monitors and other electronic device screens (particularly light-emitting diodes, or LEDS) emit about 35% blue light. Additionally, modern lighting involves ever-greater use of LEDs as well as compact fluorescent lamps that emit about 25% blue light. According to an article appearing in the Review of Optometry, “. . . our exposure to blue light is every­where and only increasing.”2

Blue light induces photochemical stress that damages cells in the eyes’ retina which can lead to their destruction. The retina is a nerve cell layer in the back of the eye that contains neurons known as photoreceptors (rods and cones) that sense light, resulting in impulses that are transmitted via the optic nerve to the brain.

The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is a layer of pigmented cells next to and outside of the retina that nourishes retinal nerve tissue and transports molecules into the retina and out of it. The RPE contains a high amount of the carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin. These pigments have been characterized as forming “a kind of biological sunglasses that absorb blue light.”3

Of all the carotenoids that are absorbed by the human body, only lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin accumulate in the macula, an area at the center of the retina responsible for central vision.4 In addition to their blue-light filtering property, these pigments have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities, all of which help protect against age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of vision loss in older men and women. Macular pigment density is considered to be a significant indicator of retinal health.

A randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial reported in BioMed Research International found an increase in macular pigment optical density and contrast sensitivity among those who received lutein and zeaxanthin for two years.5 Another study of early AMD patients found increases in macular pigment after three years of supplementation with lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin.6 These and other trials have demonstrated that supplementation with the three carotenoids can improve macular pigment optimal density, thereby helping to protect the retina. In fact, a meta-analysis of 20 randomized trials including a total of 938 AMD patients and 826 subjects without the disease concluded that supplementation with lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin improved macular pigment optical density in both AMD patients and healthy subjects.7

Findings from the original Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) resulted in the widespread recommendation of vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc with copper, and beta carotene supplementation to reduce the development of advanced age-related macular degeneration. However, in AREDS-2, the replacement of beta carotene with lutein and zeaxanthin was associated with greater protection against the progression to late AMD than that conferred by the original AREDS formula.8

While one can’t avoid exposure to blue light these days, protecting oneself may be as simple as adding lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin to one’s supplemental regimen. Although these nutrients occur in foods like spinach, kale and, in the case of meso-zeaxanthin, certain fish, nutritional supplements are now available that make it easy to obtain optimal amounts of these important carotenoids on a daily basis.

“The naturally occurring retinal antioxidants, such as lutein and zeaxanthin, can’t be regenerated fast enough to keep pace with the amount of damaging blue-light saturating the immediate environment,” commented Life Extension’s Senior Health Scientist Michael A. Smith, MD. “We are all quickly becoming lutein deficient. And since the blue-light emitting devices aren’t going anywhere, the risk of macular degeneration is rising. Macular pigment density must be preserved with daily lutein and zeaxanthin supplementation.”

References:

  1. 1. Available at http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/ Accessed January 5, 2017.
  2. 2. Melton R. Rev Optom. CE. 2014 Feb.
  3. 3. Strauss O. Physiol Rev. 2005 Jul;85(3):845-81.
  4. 4. Loskutova E et al. Nutrients. 2013 Jun; 5(6): 1962–1969.
  5. 5. Huang YM et al. Biomed Res Int. 2015;2015:564738.
  6. 6. Akuffo KO et al. Eye (Lond). 2015 Jul;29(7):902-12.
  7. 7. Ma L et al. Nutrients. 2016 Jul 12;8(7):426.
  8. 8. Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) Research Group. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2014 Feb;132(2):142-9.

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