The Lowdown on Lutein, Blue Light, and Vision Health

by Melissa Chichester

A 2016 Nielsen Company report revealed that Americans spend over 10 hours per day consuming screen-based media, including time spent on TVs, smartphones, computers, and video games.

Screen time and its relation to our vision health is a widely studied health concern by researchers. Let’s learn about blue light and the nutrients that are beneficial to eye health.

What is blue light?

Sunlight is made up of several colors, and when these colors combine the human eye processes them as white light. Each color has a different energy and wavelength. Blue light rays are shorter and contain more energy compared to red light rays. Studies have suggested that too much blue light exposure may not only be damaging to our eyes, but it can also impact the body’s natural circadian rhythm. It is also suggested that blue light may inhibit the secretion of melatonin, a natural sleep hormone (1). Blue light isn’t all bad though; it is actually necessary for alertness, and in children, it is needed for the development of the eyes.

How does blue light affect the eyes?

Exposure to blue light has increased with the growing dependency on electronics. How many of us are guilty of staring at our smartphone for an hour before bed? This habit is one that leads to poor blue light hygiene that can negatively affect the eyes. Visible blue light passes through the cornea and hits the retina, which can lead to premature aging of the eyes. Too much blue light may also lead to digital eyestrain. Digital eyestrain has actually surpassed carpal tunnel syndrome as the leading computer-related complaint. Signs of eyestrain from blue light include sore eyes and dry eyes.

How can I help protect my eyes from blue light?

Even if it seems as though there is no way to avoid exposure to blue light, there are some ways to decrease exposure:

  1. Take frequent breaks from screen time, preferably every twenty minutes.
  2. Invest in computer glasses that are yellow-tinted and block blue light.
  3. Wear anti-reflective lenses on sunglasses and glasses.
  4. Use screen filters on smartphones to block blue light or use the iPhone “night shift” button to switch away from blue light. There are also apps to block blue light on smartphones.
  5. Use warm orange or red dim lights for night lights.

Lutein’s role in blue light protection

Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids that are found in concentrated amounts in the retina, and this is measured by macular pigment optical density (MPOD). Researchers have studied this as a biomarker in eye health. Because the body does not make lutein or zeaxanthin, it is important to consume these nutrients through food or supplements. A daily lutein supplement can help the eyes filter out harmful blue light from digital devices.*