Wednesday, December 7, 2022 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Light from electronic gadgets linked to premature aging

A new study done with fruit flies shows blue light — the highest energy light we can see — affects cell function.

(CN) — Blue light is all around, emitting from cellphones, computer screens, televisions and more. After finding that fruit flies lived longer when left in complete darkness and that light added stress, researchers at the Department of Integrative Biology at Oregon State University discovered that blue light expedited aging. 

Jadwiga Giebultowicz, lead author of the study, previously observed that blue light heavily interferes with mitochondria — the energy producer for cells. Glebultowicz took this research a step further and noticed that blue light causes metabolites, chemicals that ensure cells function correctly, to be stockpiled instead of being used for energy production.

“I compare this to having maybe gas in the tank but not getting to the engine, so the cells are not prepared to function,” Giebultowicz said in an interview. 

On top of disrupting cell function, levels of the energy molecule ATP dropped due to blue light exposure. In addition, blue light also depletes molecules responsible for cell communication. These effects cause accelerated aging, and the fruit flies to die prematurely.

Advertisements for blue light-blocking glasses are everywhere, but it’s not just an eye problem. The fruit flies for these studies were chosen not only for how similar their cell composition is to humans but because of the ability to test “mutant flies” that have no eyes at all. Despite the lack of eyes, the effects remained the same, and the light was absorbed through skin and fat cells. 

While fruit fly studies are a critical step in researching blue light, the effects on humans have not been measured yet. Giebultowicz hopes someone in the medical field will pick up her research and apply it to humans. She predicts the effects won’t be as severe. The fruit flies were exposed to intense amounts of blue light, more intense than what humans experience. 

“After our study, we can say that blue light is an environmental stressor like other stresses that we encounter like chemicals that are toxic and so forth,” Giebultowicz said. 

Giebultowicz also explained that it takes time for science to catch up with technology and reminisced on the days of cancerous microwave headlines. Of course, blue light doesn’t need to be abandoned, but Giebultowicz feels the study can serve as a stepping stone for further research. Until then, she recommends using the warmer light settings on phones and laptops, sometimes called “Night Shift,” and dimming LED lights to lower blue light consumption. 

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.