This Is How Blue Light Exposure Can Accelerate Aging, New Study Finds
As someone who loves the sophisticated look of wearing glasses, I've always wanted a reason to invest in a pair of specs, despite my perfectly fine vision. So when I heard how our obsession with screens could negatively affect our eye health and circadian rhythms, I practically jumped at the opportunity to purchase a pair of blue-light-blocking lenses. They're smart, they're chic, and they're protecting my retinas from harmful UVs—a triple threat, I'd say.
However, there's new research on the horizon that says exposure to blue light goes beyond just our eyes—we might not even need to see it to experience its harmful effects.
This new study, published in the journal Aging and Mechanisms of Disease, shows that our proximity to blue light damages not only our retinas but our brain cells as well and can even lead to accelerated aging.
During the study, researchers analyzed how a group of fruit flies responded to daily 12-hour exposure to blue LED light. They found that the flies that were subjected to this light had shorter life spans compared to flies that were kept in total darkness or with blue light filtered out. These blue light flies had damage to their retinal cells and their brain neurons, and they even experienced impaired locomotion, as they had difficulties climbing the walls of their enclosure. Basically, blue light's damage goes way beyond eye health.
"It was very clear cut that although light without blue slightly shortened their lifespan, just blue light alone shortened their lifespan very dramatically," lead researcher Jaga Giebultowicz, Ph.D., notes.
What's even more interesting is that some of the flies in this experiment had mutations where they didn't develop eyes at all. But even these eyeless flies displayed the same levels of brain damage and impaired locomotion—meaning, the flies didn't even have to see the light to experience its harmful effects.
What this means for us is that we might not even have to be looking at our computers or phone screens for LED lighting to damage our brain cells.
While these insects have significantly shorter life spans compared to humans, fruit flies have cellular and developmental mechanisms that are pretty similar to the ones in humans, according to the researchers.
Despite these findings, scientists believe we're far from doomed.
As we think about the factors that can delay signs of aging—such as diet and exercise—we might want to add light exposure to the top of the list. Because our society is so focused on slowing the aging process, these researchers are optimistic that scientists will take measures to help combat exposure to blue light in the wake of this news.
"As science looks for ways to help people be healthier as they live longer, designing a healthier spectrum of light might be a possibility, not just in terms of sleeping better but in terms of overall health," co-first author of the study Eileen Chow says.
Another lead author, Trevor Nash, agrees: "In the future, there may be phones that auto-adjust their display based on the length of usage the phone perceives. That kind of phone might be difficult to make, but it would probably have a big impact on health."
But before these new advances in science and technology exist, it's probably best to take measures into your own hands to reduce your exposure to blue light. Keeping your devices on a "night mode" setting and investing in a pair of blue-light-blocking glasses is the way to go for now.
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