A new study in Foods1 suggests that supplementation with three macular carotenoids—lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin—may improve visual performance, sleep quality, and reduce the negative effects associated with increased digital screen time and blue light exposure. Using OmniActive Health Technologies’ (Morristown, NJ) proprietary Lutemax 2020 marigold extract ingredient, researchers sought to determine the potential benefits of macular carotenoid supplementation on blue-absorbing macular pigment, and whether the study subjects’ sleep quality and visual performance might be improved through supplementation with macular carotenoids. The blue light study adds to the existing body of research on Lutemax 2020’s bioavailability, eye-health, cognitive, and skin benefits, including the recent LAMA I study (2016), the LAMA II study (2016), and the Beautiful Skin Forever (BSF) study (2016).
Lutein and zeaxanthin isomers—known as macular carotenoids—are “natural filters of high-energy blue light,” OmniActive explained in the press release. That high-energy blue light “reaches deep into the eye and can harm the macula—the region of the eye responsible for highest visual acuity—by promoting the production of free radicals.” The short-term effects of blue light exposure include eye strain and eye fatigue, while the long-term effects of blue light exposure are more serious and can lead to a progressive loss of visual function.
The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study was conducted over a period of six months, and included 48 healthy, young adults who spent a minimum of six hours per day in front of a digital screen. Though six hours of screen exposure was the minimum requirement for the study, James Stringham, PhD, lead author of the study, told Nutritional Outlook that many of the subjects admitted to spending as many as 16 or 17 hours in front of a screen per day. “On average it was up there, about eight [hours],” he said. “And that’s without looking at the television. So, it’s a lot of screen time.”
The participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups: a study group supplemented with Lutemax 2020 (the macular carotenoids) at 24 mg/day, or a placebo group. The study subjects were evaluated for Macular Pigment Optical Density (MPOD) and markers of visual performance including contrast sensitivity, critical flicker fusion, disability glare, and photostress recovery. Measurements were recorded at baseline, again at three months, and once more at six months. MPOD was measured with a non-invasive, perceptual task called heterochromatic flicker photometry (HFP). Researchers observed significant increases in MPOD and overall sleep quality, and reduced frequency of headaches, eye strain, and eye fatigue, as well as improvements in visual performance measures in the macular carotenoid group compared with the placebo group. As the study authors noted, “Increased MPOD significantly improves visual performance and, in turn, improves several undesirable physical outcomes associated with excessive screen time.”
Specifically, Stringham noted “improved visual performance, substantial processing speed, or how fast your digital system works,” as well as improved photo stress recovery. “Also…contrast sensitivity increased,” he said. “The ability to discriminate different shades of dark and light. That’s probably the best real-world measure of visual performance there is.”
In the press release, OmniActive said that this blue light study is the first study that examines the impact of macular carotenoid supplementation on visual health and performance, improved sleep quality, and reduced eye strain related to exposure to blue light emitting digital screens.
The Sleep Quality Connection
Stringham noted that these macular carotenoids provide many potential benefits throughout the body, not just to vision health but also potential benefits to other, less-studied benefits like improvements in sleep quality. In this current blue light study, researchers noted an improvement in sleep quality among subjects in the macular carotenoid group.
“One probable explanation is that these carotenoids [are] such great, systemic antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that they probably reduced inflammation,” Stringham told Nutritional Outlook. “Indeed, many of our subjects noted that they were falling asleep faster and that they were tossing and turning less. And that’s probably a symptom of less irritability while you’re sleeping, which could be facilitated by these anti-inflammatories in the body. It’s [a] natural [ingredient], too, which is great.”
Though the researchers noted that in this study, the improvement in sleep quality “was not directly related to increases in MPOD,” Stringham said he is optimistic about the potential for future research in this area. “You’ve probably heard you should put your phone down an hour before you go to bed and stop looking at screens,” he said. “That’s true, but [trouble sleeping], like I mentioned earlier, is probably the result of inflammation, or the reduction of inflammation in the body, which we know lutein in particular [addresses] really well. It would be great to do an actual sleep study” moving forward, he said.
- Stringham JM et al., “Macular carotenoid supplementation improves visual performance, sleep quality, and adverse physical symptoms in those with high screen time exposure.” Foods. Published online June 29, 2017.