The recent Blue Light User Exposure (B.L.U.E.) study examined subjects with long duration exposure to digital screens and other sources of high-energy blue light, and found that supplementation with lutein, RR-zeaxanthin, and RS (meso)-zeaxanthin from OmniActive’s Lutemax 2020 had beneficial effects on ocular health and performance, as well as sleep quality, eye strain, and fatigue.
James Stringham, PhD, lead researcher of the B.L.U.E. study, discussed the results of this trial, as well as the importance of lutein, RR-zeaxanthin, and RS (meso)-zeaxanthin at each stage of life, and the need to ensure efficacious amounts for healthy vision over a lifetime.
Blue Light Exposure
Nearly constant screen time impacts health, Dr. Stringham explained, with a wide range of symptoms now being linked to high-energy blue light exposure.
The B.L.U.E (Blue Light User Exposure) Study had what Dr. Stringham called “the perfect captive audience for a study of high screen time”—college students. “We went in thinking, we’ll put the threshold at six hours a day, at least, of screen time. That ended up being kind of ridiculously low. We almost didn’t need to screen our participants. Some of them were reporting 16 or 17 hours per day in front of screens. Most college students take notes in class on their computers; they’re streaming Netflix and Hulu and whatever else, on their tablets; they’re looking at their phones constantly.”
The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial examined 48 healthy, young individuals ages 18-25. Researchers measured visual performance parameters, as well as physical indicators correlating to high screen time, such as eye strain, blurry vision, dry eyes, neck strain, headaches, and sleep quality.
Results found that the placebo group had no change at all, while those supplemented with 24 mg of OmniActive’s Lutemax 2020 daily (the equivalent of about two big bowls of spinach) overthe course of six months, saw benefits for their eyes, as well as a number of other health indications.
“Visual processing speed went up. It increased contrast sensitivity (which is a really great measure of visual performance), reduced eye strain, and eye fatigue,” noted Dr. Stringham.
The researchers also observed an interesting correlation to reduced eye strain and headaches. “We weren’t sure about eye strain going in, but what appears to be happening is, by virtue of the carotenoid screening, they’re yellow/orange, so they screen this high energy blue light, and help to reduce squinting of the eye. It’s usually a very low-level squint, but when you’re looking at a computer screen, 6, 8, 10 hours a day, this adds up. Cumulatively, this adds to eye strain or fatigue, and even headaches.” Subjects taking Lutemax 2020 had a nearly 30% reduction in headaches.
Lastly, the study found sleep quality improved greatly in the sample of supplemented subjects. “This is likely due to an anti-inflammatory effect,” said Dr. Stringham. “We know that lutein for instance, is systemic—it’s throughout the body, and it has tissue targets as well. That probably results in less irritability, a faster time getting to sleep, and less tossing and turning.”
Dr. Stringham stressed a key takeaway from the study is that lutein, zeaxanthin, and (meso)-zeaxanthin filter the blue light wavelengths that digital devices emit. “Macular carotenoids absorb these harmful wavelengths in the visible spectrum with the highest potential to do damage.”
Benefits in Early Life
Dr. Stringham advocated for early intervention with lutein and zeaxanthin, pointing to the benefit of these nutrients before we’re even born. “Some of benefits can impact the development of the retina and the brain, how it gets ‘wired up,’ and the healthy construction of these tissues. This is happening very early on, some of it actually while in the womb,” he explained. He also noted lutein, zeaxanthin, and (meso)-zeaxanthin’s ability to protect against free radicals.
Babies are born with almost perfectly clear lenses, and Dr. Stringham explained this makes them more vulnerable to blue light. With age, the lenses yellow due to degradation of proteins on the crystalline lens and the accumulation of macular pigments. “Infants transmit all this light to the back of the lens,” he said. “What’s more, most infants have not accumulated much in the way of macular pigments, so they are more vulnerable. Lutein, zeaxanthin, and (meso)-zeaxanthin help promote healthy development, but also offer eye protection, especially if you can get it to the infant, even in the womb.”
During pregnancy, a study demonstrated an almost perfectly linear relationship between a mother’s lutein level in the blood, versus umbilical cord level, which is being sent directly to the developing child (Yeum KJ, et al. The Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 1998). “It’s almost as if during pregnancy the baby is saying ‘Give me whatever you’ve got! I’ll take it in when it comes to lutein.’ And that is unusual when it comes to nutrients. More is better, in this case.”
In another study published in 1998 in the British Journal of Nutrition, the lutein and zeaxanthin concentration in pregnant women increased incrementally through their pregnancy and remained high postpartum, even without dietary intervention (Oostenbrug GS, et al.). “This is likely a result of lutein being liberated from adipose tissue on the mother’s body,” explained Dr. Stringham. “These nutrients are lipid-soluble, so they’re absorbed in fat. Women have a slightly higher concentration of fat than men, and these nutrients are stored in the fat on your body.”
He continued, “If you’ve had a good diet at any point in your life, you’re basically storing these nutrients, along with other lipid-soluble nutrients such as vitamins A, B, D, K, and the carotenoids. And they’re probably there to support a healthy pregnancy. So even if you have terrible morning sickness or have a bad diet during pregnancy, if you had a good diet at some point in your life you probably have a storage supply of these nutrients that will be liberated to the developing baby. If we listen to Mother Nature here, we can see that lutein and zeaxanthin are a good thing during pregnancy.”
Adding to this evidence, Dr. Stringham pointed out that colostrum—the early milk referred to as “liquid gold” that’s first produced by mothers in the beginning of a child’s life—is bright yellow, as it is rich in lutein. “The baby needs that boost of lutein early on. Colostrum has a lot of benefits to the baby. Mature milk also has lutein in it, but not enough to turn it yellow.” Overall, he said, lutein is the major carotenoid found in breastmilk.
A study found that after a month postpartum (Zimmer and Hammond, 2007 (based on Johnnson et al.,1995)) breastfed infants had dramatically higher levels of lutein and zeaxanthin compared to infants fed formula (without lutein). “That’s pretty worrisome, knowing the benefits these nutrients have in terms of development. If you’re going to feed your child with formula, I would highly recommend using one with lutein in it.”
There are formulas with lutein in it, with one in particular offering as much lutein as in breastmilk, he said. “It takes a little more lutein in the formula to match the serum levels of breastmilk, but if you reach that level you get a very similar response (Rubin LP, et al. Journal of Perinatology, 2011). This is essential for those moms who don’t want to or are unable to breastfeed.”
Lutein supplementation has been found to benefit the macular pigments of infants and children by protecting the developing retina from high energy oxidative stress, and by supporting the development of visual performance, sensitivity, and visual acuity (Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, 2001; The Lebanese Medical Journal, 2009).
Children are exposed to blue light from many sources. A child’s annual UV exposure is three times that of an adult, Dr. Stringham noted, and they are also frequently exposed to florescent lights in schools, white boards, tablets, televisions, etc.
A poor diet compounds this issue, as American children are lacking in a diet rich in macular carotenoids (NHANES 2003-2004). Children, Dr. Stringham reported, are by and large not consuming a diet of enough dark greens, and red and orange fruits and vegetables. (2015 USDA Food Patterns).
Adults & Carotenoids
Meanwhile, adults aren’t doing much better when it comes to eating foods rich in these vital nutrients.
Dr. Stringham said the average American consumes 1.8 mg of macular carotenoids, according to data from the NHANES 2003-2004 database. This amounts to a paltry four or five leaves of spinach. “Six milligrams is thought to be sort of your threshold dose…which can make an appreciable change in [blood] serum, and in the eye. It may take a little longer, but if you’re consistently consuming 6 mg a day it can make a difference over time. The other amazing fact about these nutrients is that you can consume a lot of them. They’re safe; they don’t interact with drugs. There has been no officially established toxicity level, so the body can handle a lot of it. There’s really no excuse—we just have to make a concerted effort to consume more.”
Dr. Stringham underscored the rise of prolonged screen time, and its correlation to eye strain and eye fatigue. Research suggests that adults are spending more time on digital devices each day than they do sleeping. Once considered just a tool for prevention against macular degeneration, we now know these nutrients are able to address immediate lifestyle concerns for adults in the digital age.
Mary Ellen Molyneaux, managing partner and president of the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), explored the explosive growth in digital device use and the new opportunity for macular carotenoids to protect against high energy blue light. NMI’s research predicted the use of these nutrients to support the new digital lifestyle demands would be the next big thing in the eye health consumer category.
“There are an increasing number of tablets, smart phones, desktops, etc. being used, and what we see in the global population is use of desktop [computers] will reach 2.2 billion users by 2020, while mobile devices are anticipated to surpass this, reaching 2.7 billion by 2020 [data according to comScore Global Digital Future in Focus and Frost & Sullivan analysis]. Together we’re expecting 5 billion users globally by 2020,” she explained. “And this isn’t including all the other sources of blue light…from sunlight, from light in our offices, from TVs, etc.”
Ms. Molyneaux noted that 10 million visits to the eye doctor each year are a result of screen time related issues. Studies suggest that 60% of people spend over six hours daily in front of a digital device, while 70% of American adults experience some form of digital eye strain (Vision Watch Survey 2013; American Optometric Association). Additionally, a growing body of evidence has begun to indicate that blue light cumulatively over time may increase the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Younger consumers are most concerned about blue light’s effects, according to Ms. Molyneaux. NMI’s 2017 Supplement, OTC and Rx Database (SORD) found 65% of 18-19 year olds were concerned about their eye health due to overuse of “screen time” from computers, smart phones, TV, etc., while 61% of Millennials, 63% of Gen-Xers, 51% of Boomers, 44% of Matures were concerned.
This concern peaked when children were involved. When the general population was asked about concern over their own screen time, 57% of respondents reported concern. However, when parents were asked about their child’s eye health due to overuse of screen time, an overwhelming 82% were concerned.
Younger parents, such as those in the younger Millennial group (ages 18-24) and older Millennial group (25-34) were most worried about this issue. Fifty-eight percent of older Millennials were “very concerned,” while 30% were “somewhat concerned;” and among younger Millennials 52% were “very concerned,” compared to 36% who were “somewhat concerned.”
This age group also represents the group most likely to turn to supplements for support. Ms. Molyneaux reported that NMI found 59% of 18-19 year olds, 56% of Millennials, and 54% of Gen-Xers were interested in a supplement product that improves visual performance, sleep quality, and eye fatigue due to blue light from digital screens.
OmniActive’s Lutemax 2020 is a natural extract of all three macular carotenoids in a 1:5 specific ratio of lutein to zeaxanthin isomers. It is made from a fully vertically integrated supply chain, with built in redundancies.
“We start with GMO-free seeds, which we provide to our network of over 10,000 farmers in two different climatic regions,” said Lynda Doyle, vice president of global marketing, OmniActive Health Technologies.
She added that OmniActive makes efforts to produce Lutemax 2020 sustainably, through the use of social stewardship and environmental responsibility practices.
Scientific research is a cornerstone of OmniActive’s overall culture and message. “Our science program is really based around supporting claims of substantiation,” she said. “But we do start with pre-clinical work with genomics; we want to understand mechanisms of action. We look at enzyme assays. We do animal trials. And then from there we conduct human clinical trials when we have an idea of the types of doses we’re looking for, and the types of mechanisms we’re looking for, and we can kind of identify what markers make sense.”
So far, OmniActive has supported five human clinical trials, the most recent being The B.L.U.E. study.