Spending hours in front of a smart phone, computer, or other device that emits blue light has been associated with mental health issues and even obesity. Now a new study in Frontiers in Aging reveals that blue light exposure may also speed up the aging process.
A clinical trial involving fruit flies indicates that basic cellular functions may be affected by blue light from electronic devices.
“Excessive exposure to blue light from everyday devices, such as TVs, laptops, and phones, may have detrimental effects on a wide range of cells in our body, from skin and fat cells, to sensory neurons,” said Dr Jadwiga Giebultowicz, a professor at the Department of Integrative Biology at Oregon State University and senior author of this study. “We are the first to show that the levels of specific metabolites — chemicals that are essential for cells to function correctly – are altered in fruit flies exposed to blue light.”
Interesting, previous fruit fly research showed that flies kept in constant darkness lived longer than those exposed to light (which caused stress protective genes to “turn on”).
Levels of metabolites were compared between fruit flies exposed to high-energy blue light for two weeks and flies put in complete darkness. Researchers observed significant differences in metabolite levels — flies in the blue light group exhibited increased levels of succinate, but glutamate levels dropped.
“Succinate is essential for producing the fuel for the function and growth of each cell. High levels of succinate after exposure to blue light can be compared to gas being in the pump but not getting into the car,” said Giebultowicz. “Another troubling discovery was that molecules responsible for communication between neurons, such as glutamate, are at the lower level after blue light exposure.”
Speeding Up the Aging Process
The findings suggest that certain cells are operating at a suboptimal level, potentially leading to premature cell death.
“LEDs have become the main illumination in display screens such as phones, desktops and TVs, as well as ambient lighting, so humans in advanced societies are exposed to blue light through LED lighting during most of their waking hours. The signaling chemicals in the cells of flies and humans are the same, so the there is potential for negative effects of blue light on humans,“ explains Giebultowicz.
Researchers plan to study the effects of blue light directly on human cells in the future.
“In summary, our metabolomic results provide novel insights into the mechanisms by which BL [blue light] interferes with vital metabolic pathways in extra-retinal cells in flies. All metabolites altered by BL in our study are conserved between fly and human cells. Therefore, it is possible that prolonged exposure to BL may have similar, albeit more subtle effects on skin, subcutaneous fat, and other cells in the human.”