Them There Eyes is an ancient pop song warning about what your eyes disclose about your romantic future.
I can’t vouch for that. But I can tell you that when it comes to your physical well-being, your eye color can actually reveal a good deal about your potential health future.
Research has found that the color of your eyes can indicate your genetic risk for certain conditions and diseases. It’s a fascinating topic. . .
Your eye color depends on how much melanin gets deposited on the iris in each eye, the tissue surrounding the pupil (the central opening). Melanin is a pigment that lends color not only to the eyes but to the skin.
Brown eyes contain the greatest amount of melanin. Eyes that are blue or green/hazel possess much less.
You probably won’t be surprised to learn your genes determine the amount of melanin in your eyes. Eye color is inherited.
But while it used to be thought that a single gene controlled eye color, it’s now been shown that the eye-coloring process entails a complicated interplay of a variety of genes involved in producing, transporting and storing melanin.
That being said, research indicates, for instance, that the color of your eyes influences your risk of melanoma – the most serious form of skin cancer – and vitiligo, a skin condition that produces white spots and areas on your skin that lack any pigmentation.
If you have lighter colored eyes, you enjoy a reduced risk of unsightly vitiligo but an increased chance of melanoma. Conversely, if you have dark brown eyes, your risk of vitiligo goes up but your skin cancer risk drops. The researchers believe that when vitiligo occurs in your skin, it involves cellular activities that fight off cancer.1
“Genetically, in some ways vitiligo and melanoma are polar opposites. Some of the same genetic variations that make one more likely to have vitiligo make one less likely to have melanoma, and vice-versa,” says researcher Richard Spritz.
“Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease, in which a person’s immune system attacks their normal pigment cells. We think that vitiligo represents over-activity of a normal process by which one’s immune system searches out and destroys early cancerous melanoma cells.”
Other cancer risks linked to eye color include:
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma: Research in Australia demonstrates that having hazel eyes boosts your chances of this cancer of the lymph system.2
- Iris melanoma: A review study shows that this type of eye cancer is more prevalent in people with blue eyes.3 It’s very rare. Don’t let it keep you up at night.
In women, the chances of endometriosis can also be linked to eye color. This serious, painful condition occurs when the tissue that lines the uterus begins to grow outside of that organ – often on the ovaries or fallopian tubes.
The condition affects about ten percent of women before they reach menopause. It can be linked to chronic fatigue syndrome, infertility, ovarian and breast cancer, allergies and chemical sensitivities.4
According to researchers in Italy, women with blue eyes run a significantly higher risk of developing “deep” endometriosis which causes extreme pain and infertility.5 The Italian scientists believe that some of the same genes that cause a woman’s eyes to be blue probably also influence the chances of the overgrowth that leads to endometriosis.
A wide range of other conditions have also been connected to eye color:
- People with blue eyes are more likely to abuse alcohol: An analysis at the University of Vermont found that people with lighter colored eyes were much more likely to indulge in problem drinking than folks with dark brown eyes.6
- If you have brown eyes, some research suggests you may have a lower risk of blindness resulting from macular degeneration: Macular degeneration seems to occur more often in folks with blue eyes. Some researchers dispute this. But it is well-established that those with brown eyes do have a greater chance of developing cataracts, which don’t occur as often in those of us who have blue eyes.7
Now don’t forget, the color of your eyes doesn’t necessarily predetermine whether you will or won’t suffer any of these conditions. They only influence your risk.
And in the same vein, a study found that women with blue eyes tolerate pain better than women with brown or hazel eyes.8 But that doesn’t mean you feel less pain if you have blue eyes. It could just mean you’re better able to shrug it off.