Your eyes can provide clues of medical conditions or diseases that may not be showing symptoms — yet.
By Susan Peck
Photography by Derrick Martinez
Some say your eyes are the windows to your soul, but cutting-edge medical research reveals they are also a view into your whole body wellness.
Dr. Bill Koppin, 55, optometrist and owner of Shades Optical in Birmingham, says along with detecting eye conditions, an annual eye exam can often detect diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or even neurological or autoimmune conditions that don’t necessarily present symptoms.
Not only can blurred vision signal a medical problem with the eye itself, it can also be a sign of a more serious illness like diabetes. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, 73% of diabetic patients report having blurred vision as a common symptom.
As the current science of wellness expands, it’s becoming clear that our bodies operate as a whole, with our organs and systems interconnected in both health and disease, Koppin explains. “We’ve become familiar with the gut-brain connection, and studies also show there is a connection between the eye and the gut and the brain,” says Koppin, a member of the Ocular Wellness and Nutrition Society for the last 10 years.
He gives an example of macular pigment optical density testing for macular degeneration. “(If I see nutrients or important pigments aren’t being absorbed properly by the eye, then I know they aren’t being absorbed by the brain either, because they work that closely together,” he says. “The information we’re getting from your eye can alert us to potential problems elsewhere in the body that need to be addressed.”
This interconnection that takes place within our body is due largely to its microbiome — an army of trillions of microbes living in our body that protects us against germs, breaks down food to release energy and produces vitamins to keep us healthy.
And if your microbiome is compromised, Koppin says you’ll have symptoms like inflammation that can cause conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, asthma and heart disease.
“Thankfully there’s a simple solution to keeping your microbiome healthy, and that’s eating the proper foods every day,” says Andrea McNinch, nutritionist and owner of Heal Yourself Institute in Royal Oak. McNinch recommends using a home water purification system for clean water and eating a healthy diet of foods that don’t assault your microbiome such as organic fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy, and avoiding sugar, gluten, corn and soy for starters.
“No two people’s microbiome is the same, so there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the perfect diet for you, but we can’t underestimate the power of good food on your health,” McNinch says. “With the help of a knowledgeable nutritionist you can individualize a plan that promotes natural foods, and a lifestyle that pairs ancient wisdom with new advanced technologies — the best of both worlds.”
Eye On Our Future Health
“We’ve just begun to scratch the surface when it comes to looking at the eye as a diagnostic tool for our whole body health,” Koppin says. “The newest groundbreaking information indicates that we may be able to use our tears instead of a blood sample to get an overview of important health markers.”
Another scientific frontier that will continue to be explored is the question about whether our increased screen time — particularly blue light exposure — is harmful to our eyes and our health.
“Over time, accumulated damage from blue light exposure can increase the likelihood and severity of age-related eye conditions such as macular degeneration and cataracts,” says Dr. Rahul Khurana, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “There are also studies looking at blue light exposure and its affect on your circadian rhythms — or your internal biological clock — and how it disrupts our sleep.”
At Shades Optical, Koppin uses advanced digital retinal imaging technology to scan the layers of the back of the eye for the most informative exam. “Procedures like these allow us to detect many serious physical problems early, promote healthy vision and whole body wellness,” Koppin says.
He adds wellness can be attained with a few simple steps: “When it comes to our health we’ve been trained in this society to wait until something is broken and then we try to fix it. Instead we need to focus on prevention of disease starting first with good nutrition and an annual wellness exam — that will give us a better quality of life all the way around.”