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(No. 42) Blue light, Bill Withers and happy holidays to you, By Stephen P. Williams
But first, this: Revenge of the olds: The Harvard Business Review says that young people report experiencing more ageism than do older people.
Light, everywhere, light
Photo by Em bé khóc nhè on Unsplash
Light is a complex expression of energy that comes in many forms. Let there be light, sure, that’s nice. I like to see the flowers, skyscrapers and trees. I like the idea of sharing our inner light with others. Sending a twinkle of the eye to someone, rather than a frown. But there’s one type of light that’s suspected of causing a lot of trouble these days. Blue light, emitted from all the screens that surround us, and in high doses from LED lights (including many holiday lights), has been implicated in cell degeneration, retina problems and much more, including a role in speeding up the aging process.
For a few years I’ve heard how blue light at night makes it harder for a person to fall asleep. I’ve generally ignored that fact, because I almost never have trouble falling asleep (staying asleep is altogether a different story). Recently I bought a new pair of glasses from a brand called Moscot. I said yes when they offered me blue-light blocking lenses for an additional $50, with the idea that they’d reduce the potentially destructive light I absorb all day from my laptop, phone, camera, iPad, Kindle and the TV I use to watch holiday romcoms with my kids. I have no idea yet if they’ll help my eyes stay relaxed at the computer, reduce the risk of retina issues (as claimed), improve sleep and help my brain age better. But I sure hope so.
Many types of light can have deleterious effects on aging and how long you live -- UV light causes skin cancer, for instance. And also positive effects -- sunlight allows our bodies to produce vitamin D, which is so necessary for the immune system. But blue light stands out for seeming to wreack havoc on our bodies, especially as we age. That’s a problem, given that we seem to be spending more and more time bathed in blue.
In truth, no one yet knows for certain how significantly blue light exposure effects human bodies. Most of the research is done on creatures like nematodes, that little resemble us. And fruit flies known as Drosophila, which would be a good name for a French artist’s collective.
According to a report in NPJ: Aging and Mechanisms of Disease, fruit flies that were exposed to 12 hours of visible light within the blue spectrum aged faster than their fruit fly brethren that were treated better. The reports authors say the light damaged the flies’ retinas, and rattled their nervous systems enough to hinder their ability to climb. They also died young. The study also suggested that sensitivity to blue light increases with age, and repeated exposure to it induces a stress-response in genes.
Perhaps most worrisome is that the study found that blue light not only damaged retinas, and the nervous system, but also caused degeneration of the brain. And this occurred even when there was no blue light exposure to the eyes -- apparently blue light’s negative effects occur independent of our vision. Perhaps blue light on the skin triggers a reaction.
For several years I’ve been ignoring the warnings about how blue light alters normal sleep patterns, and keeps people awake at night. But this study about the light’s effect on retinas and brains is a wake up call. I’m hoping my new anti-blue-light glasses make a difference.
The American Ophthalmological Society says that blue-light blocking glasses don’t help anything. However, many doctors believe they function well, and there are countless anecdotal testaments to their effectiveness. It seems they reduce the eyestrain I often feel when I spend hours on my laptop and phone -- something that happens a lot.
And now, for some good, yet contrary, news about blue light. Paradoxically, the presence of blue light can also help reduce seasonal depression, brought on by winter’s short days. (Newton’s third law of motion -- for every action there is an opposite reaction).
I will let you know how my new glasses work out. And in future issues I will discuss other types of light -- there are so many -- and their effects on aging and health.
I would like to see the aurora borealis in full, like this. I know that one day I will.
News for everyone
9 secrets for aging well
Well, you’ve probably heard all of these before. But no harm in revisiting good advice.
If we were rats this story would make us jump for joy; until they test it on humans, we can just clap
Drug to reverse damage in the aging brain?
Cool nights, skinny days
This well-sourced article says that keeping your room a few degrees colder while you sleep will help you lose weight.
Tribute to an older woman’s hands
Here are the beautiful lyrics to this song.
Hanging Out in a Boxcar in Mississippi
Selfie by Self
I encourage you to look for light within yourself that you can share with the rest of us this holiday season. We need a lot of it flowing back and forth right now. Stephen@stephenpwilliams.com