Extended exposure to blue light—like the kind that emanates from smartphone and laptop screens, as well as other household fixtures—could take its toll on your overall longevity. A new study out of Oregon State University warns that blue wavelengths produced by light-emitting diodes (LEDs) can damage retinas as well as brain cells.
The study used Drosophila melanogaster for the study. Otherwise known as the common fruit fly, this organism is an important model because it actually has similar cellular and development mechanisms with other animals, including humans. For the study, researchers examined how fruit flies responded to 12-hour exposures of blue LED light, daily. This would simulate the prevalent blue wavelengths of light that humans are exposed to every day.
Sure enough, the researchers found evidence of accelerated aging from this exposure.
OSU College of Science professor of integrative biology Jaga Giebultowicz explains, “The fact that the light was accelerating aging in the flies was very surprising to us at first. 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 hypothesized 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.”
Giebultowicz makes sure to note that we already have evidence that exposure to artificial light is a major risk factor for circadian rhythm disorders, pertaining to human physiology’s natural 24-hour cyclical clock. This, of course, takes its toll on brain wave activity, hormone production, and cell regeneration.
One of the study’s lead authors, Eileen Chow, also explains, “Human lifespan has increased dramatically over the past century as we’ve found ways to treat diseases, and at the same time we have been spending more and more time with artificial light. 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.”
All of this, then, leads to the simple conclusion that reducing your exposure to blue light—and artificial light in general—is probably better for your health. And if you really want to ensure your longest, healthiest life, trade in a few of those blue-light hours for good, old-fashioned, sunshine.
The results of this study have been published the journal Aging and Mechanisms of Disease.