We are often told that too much time spent on smartphones isn’t good for us, and now a new study suggests that it could even be increasing the speed at which we age.


Researchers from the Oregon State University have conducted a study, using fruit to test the effects of blue light. They found evidence that our basic cellular functions could be impacted by this light that is emitted from smartphones and other devices.

“Excessive exposure to blue light from everyday devices, such as TVs, laptops, and phones, may have detrimental effects on a wide range of cells in our body, from skin and fat cells, to sensory neurons,” says Dr Jadwiga Giebultowicz, a senior author of this study, and a professor of Integrative Biology at Oregon State University.

“We are the first to show that the levels of specific metabolites - chemicals that are essential for cells to function correctly - are altered in fruit flies exposed to blue light. Our study suggests that avoidance of excessive blue light exposure may be a good anti-ageing strategy.”

In their research, the team found that fruit flies exposed to the blue light activated their stress protective genes. The fruit flies that were kept in constant darkness were found to live longer.

© Guido Mieth
© Guido Mieth

“To understand why high-energy blue light is responsible for accelerating ageing in fruit flies, we compared the levels of metabolites in flies exposed to blue light for two weeks to those kept in complete darkness,” said Giebultowicz.

Metabolites are substances that are made or used when the body is breaking things down including drugs, food, chemicals or anything you put in your body. The study found blue light exposure caused large differences in the levels of metabolites in the cells of the fly heads. In particular, they found metabolite succinate levels increased, but glutamate lowered.

“Succinate is essential for producing the fuel for the function and growth of each cell. High levels of succinate after exposure to blue light can be compared to gas being in the pump but not getting into the car,” said Giebultowicz.

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“Another troubling discovery was that molecules responsible for communication between neurons, such as glutamate, are at the lower level after blue light exposure”.

The results of this study could suggest that cells perform at suboptimal levels with blue-light exposure, causing their early death. This could then lead to accelerated ageing if subjects are exposed to too much blue light.

While the results from the study are an indication as to how blue light is affecting humans, it isn’t a perfect comparison and the team is now hoping to perform further research on human cells.

“We used a fairly strong blue light on the flies – humans are exposed to less intense light, so cellular damage may be less dramatic,” says Giebultowicz.

The results from this study suggest that future research involving human cells is needed to establish the extent to which human cells may show similar changes in metabolites involved in energy production in response to excessive exposure to blue light.“

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Alex is a staff writer at BBC Science Focus. He has worked for a number of brands covering technology and science with an interest in consumer tech, robotics, AI and future technology.