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Enlightening on light

Enlightening on light

Noticed your eyes feeling tired and strained at the end of the day? Well, our eyes have had to contend with a lot of changes over the past hundred years, and especially in the last decade. Here we’ll look at why our eyes might be aging faster than they used to, and what you can do to give your precious peepers some much needed support.

For as long as humans have walked the earth, the sun has been our main source of light. Up until relatively recently, our daily lives revolved around the rising and setting of the sun, and once it had left the sky we tended to naturally retire to bed, or huddle around the fire where we shared stories and settled to sleep. As time moved on, this ritual took place around candles or gaslights. To this day animals still follow this daily pattern, as do birds with their dawn chorus and evening roosting.

Fast forward to the modern era and we humans now live by electric lighting- which only appeared gradually from around the 1880s to the 1960s. Electricity started as a luxury that only the super-rich could afford; however, after WW2 the availability of electricity gradually spread. Now it is an accepted and expected part of modern life for most of us.

Suddenly, in evolutionary terms, we have lives with numerous electronic devices allowing us to multi task- to be connected and to work 24 hours a day if we want. We are watching screens all day long at a short focal distance and consuming our news, books, music, films, TV, keeping tabs on our social lives, shopping, paying bills and working to earn our living in this manner.

Convenient, yes, but all this readily accessible light isn’t necessarily all good news. There is a biological price to be paid. Blue light is part of the natural light spectrum- one notch up from the well-known harmful (but also hugely beneficial) rays of UV light. Blue wavelengths are beneficial in small doses, making us feel alive, happy and energised. It is the wavelength that is more visible during the day, when we are awake. When we are deprived of blue light during winter some of us can actually feel sad and low. However, the amount of access we now have to blue light via backlit mobile devices, LED lighting in our homes and at work, computer screens and natural daylight means our biological clock can be thrown right out of whack. Our circadian rhythm can get off kilter, which means our quality of sleep suffers as our body struggles to differentiate awake time versus sleep time. Being exposed to too much blue light can mess with the way our bodies produce melatonin, which helps control the important circadian rhythms. Blue light is particularly problematic here, which is why our modern lives are so at odds with our quest to find energy efficient ways to light our homes and connect with our world.

Blue light also takes a toll on our eyes. These sensory organs are now working much harder and for longer hours each day processing literally millions of pieces of information. As we scroll vertically through our social media or online news feeds we are asking our eyes and our brains to register the pictures, make sense of the words and read small screens at a fast pace. Then we switch to reading horizontally in the more traditional manner and expect it to all make sense. This can manifest itself in itchy, red, sore eyes, headaches, sore necks, blurry vision or trouble focussing when you look up and across a room.

When blue light enters our eyes, it hits the back of the retina in a certain spot. Over time this can potentially lead to a deterioration in our vision. Usually this occurs as we age, but blue light damage can speed this up.

To help protect your eyes and preserve the quality of your sleep, be aware of the impact that all your screen time is having on your biology and your soul. Seriously. Dial it back and set strict limits on how much you expose yourself to artificial blue light, particularly in the evening. Learn to respect the ebb and flow of the seasons and daylight to set your wake up and sleeping timetable where you can – it is after all biologically how you are hardwired….

As our lives have changed, so our diet must also adapt to help nourish our eye to allow them to repair themselves. A number of important minerals and dietary vitamins are required on a regular basis and can be sought via food and supplementing. First off, up the amount of fresh veggies and fruit you consume, they are packed full of natural antioxidants. Particularly the dark green veggies like Kale, Broccoli, peas and spinach. Try sneaking extra serves of these greens into your breakfast (a handful under your morning eggs, or blended into your smoothies) and add to your lunch and dinner menus where you can. Eyes also need the antioxidants called lutein, zeaxanthin and beta carotene (remember your Mum telling you to eat your carrots so you could see in the dark?). Beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin all contain plant based nutrients called carotenoids. Animals cannot manufacture carotenoids, only plants can do this so you need to up the plant power. Lutein and Zeaxanthin are usually transported to the retina pretty smartly, where they are thought to help support repair.

Dark coloured fruit and veg also contains a certain antioxidant called anthocyanin which has a number of health benefits. The dark skinned humble NZ blackcurrant is packed full of anthocyanins and NZ blackcurrants in particular have a higher antioxidant activity than 24 other common fruits, (due to the stronger sun and climatic conditions we have here in NZ). And they are high in Vitamin C! Including NZ Blackcurrants and other dark coloured fruit and veg into your regular diet is another way to help preserve those beautiful peepers of yours.

A good quality supplement can give your eyes extra support to help them keep up with the demands of modern living. Look for natural NZ Blackcurrant as a hero ingredient and ensure you maintain a good level of Vitamin C as well. Time to turn off the screens and look outside for a minute while you sip your berry smoothie – your eyes will thank you for it.

TAPS Code: PP1109