Daily exposure to blue light from your phone, computer, TV screen and LED lighting could accelerate ageing, even if it’s not shining into your eyes
New research from Oregon State University suggests that the blue wavelengths produced by light-emitting diodes damage cells in the brain as well as retinas.
The study involved the common fruit fly, which was used because of the cellular and developmental mechanisms it shares with other animals and humans.
The surprising study
Researchers examined how flies responded to daily 12-hour exposures to blue LED light – similar to the prevalent blue wavelength in devices like phones and tablets.
Flies subjected to daily cycles of 12 hours in light and 12 hours in darkness had shorter lives compared to flies kept in total darkness or those kept in light with the blue wavelengths filtered out.
The flies exposed to blue light showed damage to their retinal cells and brain neurons and had impaired locomotion – the flies’ ability to climb the walls of their enclosures, a common behaviour, was diminished.
Some of the flies in the experiment were mutants that do not develop eyes, and even those eyeless flies displayed brain damage and locomotion impairment that, suggesting flies didn’t have to see the light to be harmed by it.
“The fact that the light was accelerating aging in the flies was very surprising to us at first,” says Jaga Giebultowicz, lead researcher and a professor of integrative biology in the OSU College of Science.
“We’d measured expression of some genes in old flies, and found that stress-response protective genes were expressed if flies were kept in light. We hypothesised that light was regulating those genes. Then we started asking, what is it in the light that is harmful to them, and we looked at the spectrum of light. It was very clear cut that although light without blue slightly shortened their lifespan, just blue light alone shortened their lifespan very dramatically.”
READ MORE: Why blue light isn’t your friend
Artificial light linked to sleep and circadian disorders
Natural light, Giebultowicz notes, is crucial for the body’s circadian rhythm – the 24-hour cycle of physiological processes such as brain wave activity, hormone production and cell regeneration that are important factors in feeding and sleeping patterns.
“But there is evidence suggesting that increased exposure to artificial light is a risk factor for sleep and circadian disorders,” she says. “And with the prevalent use of LED lighting and device displays, humans are subjected to increasing amounts of light in the blue spectrum since commonly used LEDs emit a high fraction of blue light. But this technology, LED lighting, even in most developed countries, has not been used long enough to know its effects across the human lifespan.”
Giebultowicz says that the flies, if given a choice, avoid blue light.
In the meantime, there are a few things people can do to help themselves that don’t involve sitting for hours in darkness:
- Eyeglasses with amber lenses will filter out the blue light and protect your retinas.
- Phones, laptops and other devices can be set to block blue emissions
Source: Oregon State University via www.sciencedaily.com
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