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Eyes Can Reveal True Biological Age and Risk of Disease

There is an old expression that the “eyes are the windows to the soul.” There may not be a way to scientifically prove that statement, but a new research study has found that a close look into the eyes can reveal a lot about your health and lifespan.

The researchers who published their findings online in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, say that the difference between the biological age of the retina, the light-sensitive layers of nerve tissue at the back of the eye, and a person’s real or chronological age, is linked to their risk of death.

This so-called “retinal age gap” could be used as a screening tool, suggest the researchers.

A growing body of evidence indicates that the network of small vessels in the retina might be a reliable indicator of the overall health of the body’s circulatory system and the health of the brain.

While the risks of illness and death increase with age, it’s clear that these risks vary considerably among people of the same age, implying that “biological aging” is unique to the individual and may be a better indicator of current and future health, than chronological age is. Having a tool such as the retinal age gap that can give doctors a better indication of biological age – or actual wear and tear on the body and brain — can help doctors to be more proactive and less reactive in delivering care, say the researchers.

There are currently other methods to evaluate biological age; however, these techniques are fraught with ethical/privacy issues as well as often being invasive, expensive, and time-consuming, say the researchers. 

The researcher applied an AI predictive algorithm to thousands of retinal images to find a correlation between biological age as indicated by the retinal scans and disease and mortality. 

In the groups of “fast agers,” those who had significant age gaps between their real age and their biological age, the AI program found significantly higher percentages of incidents and death from cardiovascular disease, cancers, and Alzheimer’s.

And each one-year increase in the retinal age gap was associated with a 2% increase in the risk of death from any cause and a 3% increase in the risk of death from a specific cause other than cardiovascular disease and cancer, after accounting for potentially influential factors, such as high blood pressure, weight (BMI), lifestyle, and ethnicity.

The researchers conclude, “Our novel findings have determined that the retinal age gap is an independent predictor of increased mortality risk, especially of non-[cardiovascular disease]/ non-cancer mortality. These findings suggest that retinal age may be a clinically significant biomarker of aging.”  

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