Life Extension Magazine®

Man rubbing eyes from digital eye strain risking macular degeneration

Protect Eyes from Screen-Time Damage

Computer and smart phone screens emit blue light that can cause degenerative eye disorders. Natural carotenoids have been shown to filter out blue light to ease eye strain and reduce risk of macular degeneration.

Scientifically reviewed by:  Dr. Amanda Martin, DC, in August 2023. Written by: Jason McNeil.

Smartphones. Tablets. Computers. TVs. E-readers.

Screens are everywhere these days. And with them comes a danger that few people are aware of:

Most of them emit high amounts of harmful blue light.1

This blue light can cause problems like digital eye strain and insomnia.

Even more worrisome, it can damage the retina, the part of the eye that captures light and sends signals to the brain, allowing you to see.2-7

This damage increases the risk for macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in older adults.8-11

Disconnecting from modern technology isn’t exactly an option.

Fortunately, scientists have discovered that two nutrients, lutein and zeaxanthin, filter out the most dangerous wavelengths of blue light, acting almost like internal sunglasses.

Increasing intake of these plant pigments shields the retina, reducing risk of eye strain and age-related eye disease.12

The results can be dramatic: One study found that people with the highest dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin had a 41% lower risk of developing advanced macular degeneration.13

The Growing Problem of Screen Time

young woman using mobile device in bed  

Roughly 96% of Americans own a cellphone. A vast majority also own a desktop or laptop computer, and many have tablets, e-readers, and LED televisions, as well.14

These devices are used almost constantly—for work, play, entertainment, and research.15,16

One study found that average users check their smartphones about 52 times per day.17 And at least two different, recent studies have shown that the average adult in the U.S. spends more than nine hours a day looking at digital media.18,19

The blue light emitted from most of these devices can cause three problems:

Digital Eye Strain

Staring at blue-light-emitting screens for long periods of time can cause digital eye strain, which often manifests as eye pain, dry eyes, headache, and blurred vision.15

This condition (once known as computer vision syndrome) is becoming more common as people spend more time looking at screens. A few years ago, it was estimated that 65% of people in the U.S. have symptoms of digital eye strain, and this number is growing.15

Trouble Sleeping

Being exposed to sunlight during the day and darkness at night helps set our circadian rhythm, the natural internal clock that regulates sleep-wake cycles. The sun’s blue light is an important contributor to these circadian rhythms.

But with increasing screen time, we are exposed to intense blue light well into the evening. To our brains, it’s as though the sun is still blazing, even at night.

This dramatic change in light-dark cycles can impair normal circadian rhythms. As a result, the body produces less melatonin at night,4 leading to difficulty falling asleep and insomnia. This loss of sleep can cause drowsiness and problems with attention and alertness.20

Risk for Macular Degeneration

The biggest danger of excess blue-light exposure is that it can permanently damage vision.

When blue-light wavelengths hit the retina, they set off a cascade of chemical reactions that damage photoreceptors, the retinal cells responsible for first detecting light.2,3,5-7,21

The result can be impairment of photoreceptor function and even cell death. Photoreceptors are not yet replaceable, and without them, vision is not possible.

In fact, several studies now confirm that chronic exposure to blue light increases the risk of age-related macular degeneration,2,8-10 a leading cause of blindness.11

man in front of computer, rubbing strained eyes

What You Need to Know

Shielding Your Eyes from Blue-Light Damage

  • Digital screens emit a high percentage of blue light, a major contributor to digital eye strain, sleep problems, and the development of age-related macular degeneration, a major cause of vision loss in older adults.

  • The carotenoid pigments lutein and zeaxanthin are concentrated in the retina of the eye, where they help shield it from the harmful effects of blue light.

  • Most people have levels of these carotenoids that are far below what is recommended by doctors for optimal protection.

  • Increasing intake of lutein and zeaxanthin from marigold extract has been shown to significantly boost retinal levels of these pigments, protecting against eye strain and reducing the risk for macular degeneration and vision loss.

Preventing Damage

The retina of the eye has a built-in shield to protect photoreceptors from blue-light damage. The retinal pigment epithelium has extremely high concentrations of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, along with a slightly different form of zeaxanthin called meso-zeaxanthin.3

These pigments help catch and disperse the energy of blue light, significantly reducing the amount that hits the photoreceptors.3,22-25 Carotenoids also have free-radical scavenging and anti-inflammatory properties, further reducing damage that leads t.3,22,25,26

But there’s a problem: Lutein and zeaxanthin aren’t created in the human body. They’re produced in plants and must be obtained from the diet or by supplementation.27

Modern Western diets are so lacking in carotenoids that the levels of lutein and zeaxanthin in most people’s retinas are far below what are considered optimal to protect vision.27,28

The carotenoids in the retina can be estimated by measuring the macular pigment optical density. (The macula is the central area of the retina.) The higher the density, the more carotenoids present, and more blue light is blocked.

The average macular pigment optical density in people from Western countries is about 0.3. Eye health experts agree that optical density measurements above 0.5 are ideal and most protective against blue-light-induced visual injury.29,30

The good news: Increasing intake of lutein and zeaxanthin directly leads to greater macular pigment optical density.31-38

One study evaluated a carotenoid formula derived from the marigold plant, containing 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin isomers (zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin).37 Subjects taking the carotenoids for 12 months saw their macular pigment optical density increase from below the recommended level up to a healthy range, an average of 0.654.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin Protect Your Eyes

chart comparing a normal macula to one undergoing degeneration  

Several human studies have shown that increasing intake of lutein and zeaxanthin isomers (zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin) improves visual function by reducing glare, improving contrast sensitivity, and protecting against visual problems associated with bright lights.37-39

Even more striking, taking these carotenoids has been shown to slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration and improve visual acuity (the clarity or sharpness of vision) in those who already have symptoms of the disorder.31,33-35,40,41

One study of 102,000 people aged 50 and older, conducted over 20 years, found that those with the highest intake of lutein and zeaxanthin had a 41% lower risk of progressing to advanced macular degeneration.13


man in front of computer, lifting glasses to rub strained eyes  

Digital screens emit a high level of potentially dangerous blue light, which can contribute to eye strain and sleep problems.

They are toxic to cells in the retina of the eye, contributing to loss of vision through age-related macular degeneration.

Carotenoid pigments lutein and zeaxanthin defend against blue-light-induced eye problems. But most people don’t get enough from their diets to provide optimal protection.

A marigold extract has been incorporated into a sugar-free gummy that contains these carotenoids at doses that have proven effective in clinical trials.

Studies have shown that increasing intake of these nutrients boosts the eye’s natural defenses against blue light, shielding against eye strain and long-term damage which can lead to macular degeneration.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.


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