Aug. 31 (UPI) — From obesity to mental health issues, too much screen time has received its fair share of blame. Now new research suggests that blue light exposure from devices may change cell structure, harming the human body and accelerating the aging process.
“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, the study’s senior author, said in a news release.
“Our study suggests that avoidance of excessive blue light exposure may be a good anti-aging strategy,” said Giebultowicz, who is a professor emeritus in Oregon State University’s Department of Integrative Biology.
The research findings were published Wednesday in Frontiers in Aging.
Previous studies by the researchers at Oregon State University showed that fruit flies exposed to light “turn on” stress protective genes, and those kept in constant darkness lived longer, the release said.
So, to understand why high-energy blue light is responsible for accelerating aging in fruit flies, the scientists compared the levels of metabolites in flies exposed to blue light for two weeks to those flies kept in darkness.
They found that blue light exposure caused significant differences in the levels of metabolites — chemicals that are essential for cells to function properly — as measured in the cells of fly heads.
The investigators discovered that the levels of the metabolite succinate were increased, but glutamate levels were lowered.
“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,” Giebultowicz said.
She added: “Another troubling discovery was that molecules responsible for communication between neurons, such as glutamate, are at the lower level after blue light exposure.”
These changes in vital metabolic pathways suggest cells are operating at suboptimal level, according to researchers, and this may cause their premature 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,” Giebultowicz said.
“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.”
The next step is to study the effects of blue light exposure directly on human cells to see whether they show similar changes in metabolites involved in energy production.
This is especially important, Giebultowicz said, because the scientists used “a fairly strong” blue light” on the flies. Humans are exposed to less intense light, so cellular damage may be less dramatic.