Do your children watch a lot of television or spend a lot of time in front of digital devices like computers, tablets, and smart phones? Do they tend to experience headaches, neck/shoulder pain, eye strain, dry or irritated eyes, reduced attention span, poor behavior, irritability or difficulty falling asleep? If so, the problem could be overexposure to blue light—a wavelength of light that passes through the lens of our eyes, making its way back to the macular area of the retina where has great potential to damage retinal tissue, resulting in some of these problems.
Blue light overexposure
Unfortunately, blue light overexposure is relatively common since sources include sunlight, digital devices (computers, tablets, smart phones, televisions, etc.) and artificial light. The fact is that children are spending over 6½ hours daily using digital devices. This is problematic since children may be at higher risk for blue light retinal damage than adults. The juvenile lens absorbs less blue light than the adult lens, allowing more blue light to reach a child’s retina. While we don’t fully know the long-term consequences of blue light exposure in children, the short-term consequences are better understood.
According to the Vision Council, even after being exposed to two or more hours of screen time, children experience headaches (8.8%), neck/shoulder pain (5%), eye strain, dry or irritated eyes (9.1%), reduced attention span (15.2%), poor behavior (13.3%) and irritability (13.5%). Also, electronic devices and the blue-light the emit can affect circadian rhythms, exposure before bedtime often means a delay in falling asleep, as well as poorer sleep quality and impaired alertness the following day (clearly not a good thing in the classroom). Now consider that kids born in the 1990s or later are the first generation to have been exposed to high levels of blue light at an early age, so their collective lifetime blue light exposure is much greater than that of earlier generations. The potential ramifications are not good for your children. Certainly, limiting personal electronic device use, especially before bedtime, is recommended to be the most effective method for reducing blue light overexposure in kids.
Lutein and zeaxanthin isomers
In addition to limiting electronic device use, there’s another powerful and effective step you can take in reducing blue light damage to your children’s eyes: supplementation with lutein and zeaxanthin isomers. Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids (related to beta-carotene and lycopene) and are deposited in the part of the retina where they play a critical role in protecting against blue light. Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in some foods, including dark-green vegetables such as kale, parsley, spinach, broccoli and peas. Kale is one of the best sources of lutein with 48–115 mcg per gram of kale. Orange juice, honeydew melon, kiwis, red peppers, squash and grapes are also good sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, and even durum wheat and corn provide a decent amount. The problem is that the average daily intake of lutein and zeaxanthin in the U.S. is less than 2 mg and less than 0.5 mg, respectively—which is far below the 10-20 mg of lutein and 2-4 mg of zeaxanthin shown in research to be beneficial. That’s why supplementation with these carotenoids is so important.
A study conducted at the University of Georgia found that supplementing with lutein and zeaxanthin isomers (as Lutemax 2020) reduced headaches, eye fatigue and eye strain from digital devices. Another double-blind, placebo controlled, 12-month trial examined the effects of lutein and zeaxanthin isomers (as Lutemax 2020) versus placebo. Two levels of daily lutein supplementation were used: 10 mg (2 mg Z), and 20 mg (4 mg Z). In addition, lutein/zeaxanthin improved brain derived neurotropic factor, which is active in areas of the brain involved in learning, memory, and higher cognitive processes.
Lutein and zeaxanthin also improved sleep quality. Here’s how: your body produces melatonin at night when it gets dark. However, with the continued use of TV and digital devices, melatonin production decreases. But a 3-month, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial (the first of a two-part study found that Lutemax 2020 significantly improved overall sleep quality, with no changes in the placebo group. The second 6-month, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found similar results.
Supplementation for children
Now that we’ve established that Lutemax 2020 is the best choice for lutein/zeaxanthin isomers, what’s the best way to provide a supplement for children (since capsule or tablets aren’t generally kid-friendly options)? In my opinion, the best option is a product by Twinlab called Blutein Gummies. Not only does this all-natural supplement provide the desired amount of Lutemax 2020 lutein/zeaxanthin isomers, but it has been field tested and children really enjoy its delicious berry taste and gummy texture (what kid doesn’t like gummies?). Most importantly, children are willing to take it every day since they see it as a treat rather than pill they have to take—and you’ll be giving your children a vitally important supplement that will help protect their eyes for years to come.
Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, is professor of nutraceutical science for Huntington University of Health Sciences and serves a senior director of product innovation for Twinlab Consolidation Corp. Bruno holds bachelor and master degrees in nutrition, as well as a graduate diploma and master’s degree in herbal medicine. As a 40-year veteran of the dietary supplement industry and award-winning formulator, he has developed natural products for dozens of dietary supplement companies; educated and trained natural product retailers and health care professionals; and written articles on nutrition, herbal medicine, nutraceuticals and integrative health issues for trade, consumer and peer-reviewed publications, as well as authoring books and textbook chapters.