A recent study looked at 3 vitamins to counter the adverse effects of excessive screen time.1 The rapid increase in use of smartphones, tablets, and computers over the past decades has raised a lot of concern regarding the potential negative effects associated with blue-light exposure – the wavelength of light given off by back-lit devices. Blue light can penetrate deep into the eye, harming the macula. The macula is responsible for our highest visual acuity. Since age-related macular degeneration is occurring at younger ages – the number one cause of blindness in individuals over 60 (down from 65) – the question of whether or not screen addiction is a contributing factor is certainly on the table. Researchers are becoming more interested in agents that may be protective to the eye.
The macular carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin, and mesozeaxanthin were looked at for their effect on blue-absorbing macular pigment, as well as visual performance. These agents naturally filter blue light, which was hypothesized to help with the free radical damage from these light wavelengths.
The study was a 6-month, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, with 48 participants. All individuals were healthy young adults who had a minimum of 6 hour of screen time per day. Evaluation for visual performance included macular pigment optical density (MPOD), as well as visual performance (contrast sensitivity, photo stress recovery, and disability glare) Participants were evaluated at baseline, 3 and 6 months. Sleep quality was also measured, since blue light is known to have a significant effect on melatonin regulation of sleep patterns.
Results of the Study
The results of the study were favorable, showing improvements in MPOD, visual performance, and all markers of excessive screen use (including eye strain, fatigue, and headache frequency). Sleep was also found to significantly improve. The implications of this study are very significant; there may be simple supplementation that most of us need to protect our eyes in an age of ubiquitous screen use.
- 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)Abstract
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Node Smith, associate editor for NDNR, is a fifth year naturopathic medical student at NUNM, where he has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Three years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.