Eyes are key to true biological age, study reveals

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The eyes can be the “windows to the soul” as the poets say, but they can also reveal a lot more about your health.

Dry eyes can be a sign of rheumatoid arthritis. High cholesterol levels can cause a white, gray or blue ring to form around the colored part of your eye, called the iris. A coppery gold ring circling the iris is an important sign of Wilson’s disease, a rare genetic disorder that causes copper to build up in the brain, liver and other organs, slowly poisoning the body.

And that’s not all: Damage to blood vessels at the back of the eye, called the retina, can be early signs of nerve damage caused by diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, even cancer, as well as glaucoma and macular degeneration. age related.

Checking for signs of illness is the main reason doctors dilate your eyes to examine their depths at your annual eye exams.

Soon, you may have another good reason to suffer from blurred vision for a few hours. A new study, which researchers claim is unprecedented, reveals that the retina may also provide us with an easy, non-invasive way to determine our body’s true biological age — which may or may not mirror our chronological age.

“The retina offers a unique and accessible ‘window’ to assess pathological processes rooted in systemic vascular and neurological diseases that are associated with elevated mortality risks,” wrote study author Dr. Mingguang He, professor of ophthalmic epidemiology at University of Melbourne and the Center for Ocular Research, both located in Australia. The study was published this tuesday na revista British Journal of Ophthalmology.

A study model

The study analyzed more than 130,000 retinal images from samples given by people participating in the UK Biobank, a long-term government study of more than 500,000 UK participants aged between 40 and 69 years. Using a model of deep learning, which is a form of machine learning, the researchers estimated a “retina age gap” between the eye’s actual biological health and a person’s age from birth.

There was a 2% increase in the risk of death from any cause for each year of difference between a person’s actual age and the oldest biological age identified in the eye, the study found.

Intervals greater than three, five and 10 years between actual age and biological age measured from the retina were significantly associated with up to a 67% higher risk of death from specific diseases, even after taking into account other factors such as high blood pressure. , weight and different lifestyle like smoking.

“Using a deep learning algorithm, the computer was able to determine the patient’s age from a color photo of the retina with very good accuracy. These levels of change are not things that we as clinicians can say — we can say whether someone is a child versus an older adult, but not whether someone is 70 versus 80,” said Dr. Sunir Garg, spokesperson. clinician at the American Academy of Ophthalmology and professor of ophthalmology at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, who was not involved in the study.

“The really unique aspect of this paper is using the difference in a patient’s actual age versus the age the computer thought a patient was to determine mortality. This is not something we thought was possible,” Garg wrote via email.

There were two disease groups for which the model failed to significantly predict increased risk of death: cardiovascular disease and cancer. This could be due to a lower number of such cases in the population studied, the researchers explained, or to improvements in treatments for cancer and heart disease.

“Our new findings have determined that the retinal age range is an independent predictor of increased risk of mortality, especially from diseases unrelated to the cardiovascular system and cancer,” wrote He and his team. “These findings suggest that retinal age may be a clinically significant biomarker of aging.”

Putting this theory into practice is just a glimmer in the eyes of researchers at this point. Even so, the study shows yet another benefit of allowing another person to look deeply into your eyes, even if it’s just your eye doctor.

“Larger datasets in more diverse populations will have to be performed, but this study highlights that simple, non-invasive eye tests can help us educate patients about their overall health and will hopefully be helpful in helping patients understand changes that can do to improve not only your eye health, but your overall health,” Garg wrote.

Reference: CNN Brasil

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