Insanity in the Iris

31. August 2010

A close look in the eye of a patient can be diagnostically path-breaking in individual cases. But does this justify iris diagnostics being its own discipline? Doubts are permitted.

Students of medicine start training early when it comes to the fascination of the eye. The textbook classic “The diagnostic View” (‘Der diagnostische Blick’, German textbook) provides among other things a view into the eye. Specialists for internal medicine actually benefit from a look in the eye of the patients thus getting diagnostic clues. And in individual cases this look might be even path-breaking. Everybody knows about that yellow discoloration in the sclera is the sign for a liver functional disorder. In addition the cornea and/or iris can supply indications for a whole line of metabolic disorders: The Kayser-Fleischer Ring in the cornea stroma is considered typical for Morbus Wilson. Just like the superfluous iron during hemochromatosis might create a visible sediment in the eye.

So colourful – but also special?

But it’s not only these path gnomonic changes making the eye so attractive for alternative medicine. What’s creating its own discipline within complementary medicine today – iris diagnostics – rather is a closed system, developed in the middle of the 19th century. In iris diagnostics it is assumed that all organs of a person have a kind of an image in the iris. Accordingly diseases of these organs reflect visibly in the pigmentation of the iris. Since this is not really an obvious thesis it requires an explanatory model. Basis of this system are supposed to be neurone pathways allegedly connecting the body’s periphery respectively the inner organs with the iris via the thalamus. It was repeatedly mentioned that within a nerve system working with a central star (brain) there are such connections running from everywhere to everywhere. But this fact is not really considered disturbing among followers of this procedure. On the contrary, the system was repeatedly refined. In the meantime we even avail over software programs supposedly enabling iris diagnostics with support of the computer. The fact that not a single one of the 37 entries found under the key word “iridology” in the research database PubMed is devoted to basic research stands in stark contrast to this differentiation of that professional field. In that regard, Anglo-American authors thus continuously talk about iris diagnostics as “pseudoscience”.

Study about colon cancer: Iris diagnostic not any better than rolling the dice

Nonetheless, the Cologne anesthesiologist Dr. Stephan Herber wanted to give the procedure a chance. In his thesis a few years ago he addressed the question whether iris diagnosticians could identify patients suffering from colon cancer by means of the iris. This physician, today head of a medical practice for traditional Chinese medicine, has selected colon cancer carefully: “Colorectal carcinomas develop over a long period. We are talking about a process taking years, sometimes decades. That’s why we considered this disease very suitable for a study”, explains Herber in a meeting with DocCheck News. Thought and done. The physicians made digital photos of both eyes of 29 patients with histologically confirmed CRC. The control group consisted of 29 healthy test persons suiting to the intervention group by age and sex. All images were submitted to two experts in the field of iris diagnostics. The task was to identify the cancer patients by those pictures. It failed: The two iris diagnostic experts were right in 51.7 percent respectively 53.4 percent. “That’s just as good as a random selection. This result was so clearly negative – there was nothing left to discuss”, resumes Herber. The reactions of those two iridologists were different. While the study was already going on, one of them stated that the iris does not change in the course of life anyways. “The other one was at least a bit more astonished”, says Herber.

Correlations found, but: What does that mean?

Wreckage for the iris? A few life boats are still left. And the little available in research about the topic is found right around those. Mainly a Korean working group emphasizes the “constitutional“ character of the iris and thus is looking for correlations with constitutional diseases. In 2004 these scientists described a correlation between a so-called neurogenic iris constitution and the appearance of an arterial hypertension. They also set of on a quest to a genetic level and found a statistic correlation between iris constitution and those polymorphisms of the apolipo-protein E predisposing hypertension.

Four years later they achieved similar results for the polymorphisms of the angiotensin gene also related to hypertension. But knowledge of this nature does not really bring you forward. If you have family with increased hypertension problems you might want to take on the idea yourself to do a bit more sports and eat healthier without a look at the iris. It’s also clear: Even if there were correlations between iris pigmentation and disposition for hypertension it would not mean at all that the entire theory building of iris diagnostics is right. Here only real basic research could help. And that is not available yet just as for the older and as generally known failed phrenology.

6 rating(s) (3.5 ø)


Doctor Frank Rajan
Doctor Frank Rajan

Phrenology, was once thought to give insights into human nature, Even palmistry or rather specific markings in the palm of certain types of patients provide diagnostic help, though not recognized as a scientific method. Iridology has been around for sometime and has to be distinguished from the examination of the fundus. Iridolgy is unfortunately NOT a scientifically proven method of diagnosis.

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Mr. Hennie Duits
Mr. Hennie Duits

From what I read I¿d say that the writer is speaking about some vague and/or su-perficial aspects of iris diagnostics. There¿s little use in that.
By way of comparison: I would not rely on a text describing the properties and behaviour of a (new) car if the reporter did not give that car a thourough test drive himself.

Hennie Duits

#1 |

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