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Of all the human senses, vision is the one that is most researched. Eighty percent of what we perceive from the world comes through sight, so it’s not surprising that visual impairment can significantly affect our quality of life.
Causes of visual impairment can include refractive errors (including myopia, hyperopia, astigmatism, and presbyopia), advanced age, smoking, and diabetes. We are also becoming increasingly aware of the negative impact blue light can have on our eyes and other aspects of health.
Blue light is a natural part of sunlight, and it plays a very important role in supporting our circadian rhythm or sleep-wake cycle. The presence of light is a signal for our bodies to wake in the morning, while the absence of light is a signal for our bodies to rest at night.
Blue light helps improve mood and alertness, along with memory and cognition. However, our increasing exposure to artificial sources of blue light from fluorescent and LED lighting, flat-screen televisions, computer screens, smartphones, and other digital devices is leading the way to various health concerns. In fact, Canadians are self-reporting spending an average of nearly 11 hours per day looking at screens that emit blue light.
When it comes to eye health, blue light with a short wavelength between 415 nm and 455 nm can pass through parts of the eye, specifically the cornea and lens to the retina, leading to eye concerns such as dry eyes, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration.
Eye strain, headaches and fatigue are other reported concerns. In addition, evening exposure to high-energy blue light can lead to brain stimulation, decreased melatonin secretion and increased adrenocortical hormone production, leading to hormone imbalance and a disrupted sleep-wake cycle.[4,5]
The good news is that there are ways we can help maintain eye health, no matter our age. Consider these three tips to decrease eye strain, reduce concerns related to blue light exposure and reduce the risk of common eye concerns such as cataracts and macular degeneration.
Long-term research has investigated the benefits of particular nutrients for eye health such as omega-3 fatty acids, beta-carotene, zinc, copper, and vitamin C.
Consuming a Mediterranean-type diet that focuses on colourful fruits and vegetables, legumes, and fish can provide many of these nutrients shown to support eye health, and may reduce the risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration. Fish oil in particular provides omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential for healthy eye development and maintenance of vision.
Research has shown that computer workers who took 360 mg of EPA and 240 mg of DHA daily for three months had significant improvement in dry eye symptoms such as decreased rate of tear evaporation and increased tear secretion.
Rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids include cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, halibut and anchovies, as well as plant-sources such as chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts. Supplementing with a high-quality omega-3 fish oil is also a beneficial option.
Taking regular breaks from using a computer and other electronic devices is a must to reduce eyestrain, headaches, and blurry vision. Although we are aware of the benefits of wearing sunglasses to protect our eyes from the sun’s UV rays, the use of blue light filtering glasses may also provide several advantages.
One study found the use of blue light glasses was an effective intervention to improve sleep, work engagement, and task performance, while reducing counterproductive work behaviour.
Blue light filters on eyeglasses, along with blue light filter apps, may also help reduce extensive blue light exposure from screens.
Lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin are major carotenoid pigments found in human eye tissues that help filter blue light. Lutein is most concentrated in the retina, whereas zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin are concentrated in the macula. Together, these three carotenoids are referred to as macular pigments.
Supplementation with these carotenoids has been shown to increase macular pigment optical density, thereby improving protection against harmful blue light.
Additional research has found that the combination of lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin led to improved overall sleep quality, fewer headaches, and reduced eye strain and eye fatigue, and showed improvements in all visual performance measures in healthy young adults exposed to six or more hours of near-field screen time each day.
Finally, these nutrients support and maintain eye health in conditions such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
Regular eye exams, smoking cessation, wearing protective eyewear when needed and staying hydrated are other ways you can keep your eyes healthy so you can see the very best.
Stephanie Rubino ND
Dr. Stephanie Rubino, ND is a licensed naturopathic doctor who completed her professional training at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine. Her vision is to help others reach optimal health.