What your eyes say about your brain
By Cassie Shortsleeve
Published July 14, 2013
Eyes are the window to the . . . brain? A breakthrough study in Psychological Science finds that the small vessels behind your eyes could reveal how healthy your noggin is. (Feeling fried? Go green and Recharge Your Brain in 10 Minutes.)
The scientists found that people with wider veins scored worse on IQ tests in middle age. Other factors like smoking, diabetes, or socioeconomic status couldn’t be to blame for the scores, says Idan Shalev, the study’s lead author.
What gives? Your eyes’ vessels may reflect the condition of your brain’s vessels because they’re similar in size, structure, and function, says Shalev. “Eye vessels are developed from the same cells that brain vessels are developed from,” he adds.
Previous studies have linked the size of blood vessels in your eyes to risks for other diseases like dementia, cardiovascular disease, or stroke—but those studies were done in older people, says Shalev. This study found that the health of your eyes could indicate brain health at a much earlier age. The results were seen even in children.
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So what does it mean for you? Pencil in the eye doctor. Even if you’re blessed with 20/20 vision, retinal imaging (a fancy term for the photo eye docs take of your eyes) does far more than test vision: It could be the easiest way yet to check in on your brain. It’s also a good way to keep track of changes if you’re at high risk for a disease like cardiovascular disease, Shalev says. Being able to compare images over time could help ID changes in midlife that hint towards problems. Otherwise, these changes could go unnoticed as they may not show symptoms until much later, he says.