Saturday, June 15, 2013

What's Iridology? Does it quack?

 I've spent the past hour looking at my irises (or irides), just overwhelmed that I possess something this cool. The iris contains the muscles that adjusts the opening of the pupil to either let more light or less light enter our eye. When light is intense, the sphincter muscles that are around the edge of the pupil contracts, making the pupil smaller. When light is dim, the dilator muscles, which are embedded in the iris and that run medially through it like rays, allow the pupil to become bigger.

Yet, it seems that most people admire the color of the iris than the function. Some people have irises the color of blue, brown, gray, green, or a combination of these.  I remember Michael from the VSAUCE YouTube channel brought out that these colors were due the amount of melanin (pigment) in the front and back layers of the iris. For example, people who have pigment only on the back layer of their iris would have blue eyes for the same reason the sky is blue. Those who have melanin in both front and back layers would have variations of eye colors. And those who have melanin in neither layer, like albinos, would have a pinkish color because of the blood vessels underneath. Cool huh?

So there I was just amazed with my irises, taking note of everything I can through a mirror. What if my irises had another unusual function? For example, can we extract more information from our eyes than just the quality of our vision? Simply, can our eyes tell us more about our overall health? For example, the yellowing of the conjunctiva, the soft clear membrane over the white part of our eyes, is a characteristic of jaundice, which often indicates a liver problem. We have also heard of diabetes causing blindness. So is it possible that our irises can be used to guide a medical checkup?

Iridology. I first heard the term from a friend who told me she visits her iridologist regularly. She said that iridologists were people who study the eye and predict health outcomes. I was so confused at that point. If I were so interested in ophthalmology, how come I had never come across this term? Was it another type of eye doctor? I was thinking of all the specialists that were vision-related:  M. D. ophthalmologists, optometrists, D. O. (Doctor of Osteopathy) ophthalmologists, opticians?

As I googled the heck out of that term, I became so irritated with it. Iridology is the study of the fibers, color, shade, and shape of the iris to examine the health quality of the body and body's organs. Iridology is not generally accepted as part of medicine and lacks strong scientific evidence; so I immediately became anti-iridology. What if my friend were just wasting her time and money? What if she actually puts her health on the line because of a false diagnosis? How many people believe in this "quackery"?

I admit I was hasty with my judgment. After doing some more research, I realized that I misunderstood its purpose.

The purpose of iridology is not to diagnose illness or disease, contrary to what some articles suggest. It is more of a prevention route. For example, it might not be the best way to tell us that we have some liver disease, but it is meant to give us information about the activity of our liver, from which the iridologist can propose some overall health outcomes. So let's say that an iridologist accurately says that from his examination one of our body's organs may be underperforming in some way. We may take action by maybe changing our diet, exercising more, and planning a visit to a physician. In this way, we can prevent a disease from occurring which is a lot better than being cured from it.

It is good to note that iridologists are not medical doctors, but medical doctors and allied health professionals like nurses may use iridology as part of their practice. Iridology is considered by some to be part of the holistic approach to health.

There are not a lot of current research studies supporting iridology, which had led to my initial irritation.   Nonetheless, I would also have to say there are not a lot of studies about it in general. The mechanism behind the method is not fully understood.

Iridology is not new; its practice actually dates back to ancient Egypt. On the other hand, modern iridology has a nice story behind it. Ignacz von Peczely (1822 - 1911) of Hungary always wanted a pet as a child. I'm not sure how old he was at the time he came across an owl with a broken leg; but I infer he was a smart little fellow, because he noticed a mark on the owl's eye at the time of the injury. As he helped nurse the owl to health, he became attentive to the changes of the owl's iris overtime. He also did the same with other animals. Later as a medical student and then doctor, he recorded the changes of the irises of many patients according to which ailments they had. He and contemporary Dr. Nils Liliquist made a chart of their observations.

Later Dr. Bernard Jensen (1908-2001) and other proponents developed more modern charts for iridology. These charts represent the left and right eyeballs, by the way.

So I look at this and ask, "What's the sense behind this?" It was really hard to find an explanation. When I did find it, it was from a page made in 2004 by a former iridologist, Joshua David Mather Sr. Needless to say, he lost faith in the practice to which he had at one point devoted his life. This was his reasoning behind iridology: The iris is composed of nerve fibers that somehow share the same nerve pathways with all organs and systems of the body. So when one part of the body is affected, the iris somehow reflects this. The pathway by which this happens is not fully understood or supported.

It didn't seem like a completely ridiculous idea to me. Our body is composed of systems of organs that work harmoniously. If one part is not working correctly, the other parts are affected. However, for the iris to be able to reflect changes from all our internal organs before we experience signs and symptoms is a daring theory.

I then came across an iridology-supporting site that suggested that the answer is in the nerve supply for the iris. The iris is said to receive information from one of the cranial (brain) nerves; and more interestingly, from one nerve in direct contact with the sympathetic nervous system (SNS: responsible for the "fight or flight" response). The nerve from the SNS branches toward the iris through the choroid of the eyeball (choroid: think lots of vessels).  Then basically by virtue of SNS, the iris has information about the health quality of our organs.

The thing that irks me more is that those who read this site may think, "Great, that makes sense."- without their having any basic background about the eye. So let me throw some eyeballs at you.
Here's an eye.

Here's a basic eye diagram:

Look's prettier on the outside, doesn't it? 

Light enters the eye first through the cornea. As you can see from the diagram, the cornea looks like a dome. What you don't see is that it's transparent. The cornea has a tear interface (film) which is really important. You know how light bends in water? Well, light bends once it goes pass the tear interface of the cornea to the anterior chamber that is filled with aqueous humor. We need light to bend to focus it as it enters the eye. One ophthalmologist noted that this tear interface on the cornea can be said to have more weight in vision than the cornea itself. The cornea cannot do its job perfectly without it. Isn't that cool? We bend light just by using our eyes. AND we can bend our finger. Beautiful.

The innermost part of the cornea is the endothelium. Underneath you see the aqueous humor which is a clear jelly-like substance. The aqueous humor nourishes the cornea and other structures in the front part of the eye and keeps them from collapsing inward (sort of like deflating). It also has some refractive index (bends light a little.)

Now we get to the iris. I previously said the iris controls the size of the pupil. It automatically contracts or dilates depending on the amount of incoming light. The lens further focuses the light with the aid of the ciliary muscle. The zonular fibers and suspensory ligaments of the lens connects the lens with the ciliary muscle.The lens becomes more dome-like when you are looking at near objects, and becomes flatter when you are looking at objects far away. The hyaloid canal allows this accommodation by holding fluid that can easily move back and forth as the lens adjusts light. This light is then focused on the retina, which is often compared to the film of a camera. 

The retina contains photoreceptors called cones and rods. I should back up and say that light, or visible light, is a specific range of wavelengths sensitive to these photoreceptors. These photoreceptors convert these wavelengths into electrical signals. Although the photoreceptors respond in the same way to all wavelengths, the intensity of their signaling varies according to the type of wavelengths: short, medium, or long. There is a high concentration of cones in the fovea area, where your object of interest is focused. Cones allow you to process color and detail, while rods help you see when light is dim. The signals are further processed and sent through the optic disc to the optic nerve, where they are sent to the brain.

The sclera is the white hard shell of the eye. The vitreous humor is like the aqueous humor, but isn't continually replaced like the latter. It helps support the eye and keeps the retina pushing against the choroid. The choroid (between the sclera and the retina) is composed of layers of blood vessels, capillaries, and connective tissue. It is responsible for providing the retina with oxygen.

Okay, don't leave me here. Now that we know a little about the eye; let's get to the point of our concern: the iris, and this "nerve supply" the site had mentioned.
Now I took this image of the cross section of the iris straight from the site I had mentioned. It isn't the best illustration so bear with me. I hope you can see the labeled letters A-G. So if you don't understand how the iris was "cut," think of the easiest direction to cut contact lens in half. Now take the half, and examine the the side that was cut. Now layer A is called the surface endothelium. Does that ring a bell? This part contains endothelial cells, like the one in the innermost part of the cornea. B would be the stroma. The stroma is said to be where the tight network of connective tissue fibers, nerve filaments, lymph and blood vessels, and "irregularly branched connective tissue cells" are located.

C would be where the muscle fibers of the iris are located. Remember when I mentioned way before that they controlled pupil size with the sphincter and dilator muscles? Yup, that's them. However, here the site was referring to the involuntary muscles that are around the margin of the pupil. So that would be the sphincter muscles.

D is the basement membrane which is composed of connective tissue and helps support the iris. E is the one of the 2 rows of pigment layer which prevent light from entering the eye through the iris. These seem to be the front and back layers I was talking about when I mentioned the variation of eye colors. The site didn't specify F and G, so I won't.

Bernard Jensen published a book in 1982 on iridology. He said that the sphincter muscles are mostly controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for "rest and digest"functions of our internal organs). The dilator muscles are mostly controlled by the sympathetic nervous system. So this means that the activities of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system affect the size of our pupil. So excitement or fear can cause our pupils to enlarge or contract.

He also said that the iris contains "over 28,000 individual nerve fibers," each which controls only about 10 muscle cells, which allows high sensitivity to changes from our body's organs by location. If you look at the chart below, you will see that each eye has specific zones that correlate to each organ. The brain is on top, just like with our body. The kidney is toward the bottom, for the same reason.

So this concept, whether evidence-based or not, is pretty cool if you ask me. But you didn't ask, so let's look at some more examples of iridology in action.


Iridologists say that the color of the iris tends to predict the type of health problems a person may have or develop. For example, people with blue eyes are said to have a higher likelihood for respiratory issues. People with brown eyes are said to have a greater possibility for blood and circulation problems. This part interested me, since I have brown eyes. Then I thought about Africans and African-Americans, and how they are very likely to have brown eyes. Sickle cell anemia is also common among these groups. However, I still don't see the science behind how color can predict this. A darker eye color (brown) is the dominant and more common genetic trait; so that is already a lot of people in general that are said to be susceptible to circulatory problems.

The shade of a certain zone in the iris is said to show whether an organ is over-performing (darker) or under-performing (lighter). The places that look like holes in the iris fibers are examined by iridologists and may have some meaning for them.

So I suppose the more important question is whether iridology works. Mather Sr. brought out the setbacks in iridology. An iridologist may use a type of light or camera to examine one's iris. Sometimes the lighting can change the way the color of the iris is perceived. Different degrees of light also affect the iris, since it is responsible for the opening of the pupil-another variable. The angle of the light can also cause different results. Mather Sr. revealed that even when there was a camera that accounted for these weaknesses, he saw no significant changes in the iris-especially in patients who have gone through "significant health changes," or have had organ impairments.

He went further to say that what was called the iris fibers -nerve fibers- are not actually nerve fibers but "strands of cells" similar in structure to cartilage, which pretty much shoots a huge hole in iridology. The iris then cannot be receiving a tremendous amount of information to be reflecting changes to the degree iridologists propose.

But you know what? Maybe Mather Sr. was just a bad iridologist? Although the science is not exactly there for iridology, maybe it works for other people. There was an article published in January of this year called "Iridology: Detecting impaired organ function with the iris." There were two studies that had two groups of people: one with blood pressure (BP) concerns, and one with no known BP issues. Iridologists were supposed to determine which people from both samples had BP problems. Researchers also tested for certain genes that may be associated with hypertension and whether the subjects tested positive for them. The results suggested a correlation between "iris characteristics" and hypertension. However, the sample size was too small to be able to use these studies as a backbone for iridology.

There was a study published in 1979 that found iridology's effectiveness at detecting impairments to be no better than chance. It failed in its supposed ability to detect kidney problems and was not "specific or selective." True, iridology is more of a prevention route and does not diagnose a specific illness. Another similar study was done in 1988, but with the focus on detecting gallbladder ailments. Same result: no better than chance. In 1996, researchers replicated the methods of iridologists using a computer to analyze the iris for certain disorders according to the given criteria. Yet again: no better than chance. Another study in 1999: same result. Researchers had determined that it is not a "valid diagnostic method." One article (2008) concerning iridology concluded that more studies need to be done. Although there have been little correlations here and there, iridology still has a large lack of scientific evidence.

Maybe Mather Sr. is right. Maybe what seems like a success for iridology is "purely coincidental." One part of me hates that it lacks evidence, but another part of me loves the theory. I want it to work, because it would be nice to detect an impairment which has not yet showed any symptoms before it becomes serious. How cool it would be to look at the iris and detect a cancer-related issue. I had to ask an ophthalmologist what he thought of iridology. After a few seconds of giggles, he said that it was all "hocus pocus." I inquired further and asked, "Let's humor it for a moment. Can the iris really tell what's going on in our body?" He responded that there are in fact certain diseases he sees that can cause some iris changes; but iridology's supposed ability to tell us the inner workings of our bodies is "hocus pocus."

After all my research, I'm going to agree with that ophthalmologist. I'm not completely against iridology, but I'm not going to waste my time and money on it either. More studies need to be done, and the science behind it needs to be more established. My advice would be that if you do decide to visit an iridologist, please only do it as a supplement to regular physician check-ups. You may even find a D.O. or a nurse who may practice iridology, and that would be even better since they have a strong science background.


  1. Elizabeth: Good article. Thanks for sharing.

    I found that the biggest "proof" against Iridology comes from Joshua David Mather Sr (former iridologist). However trying to find more about who he is, I couldn't find more than this only one article you mention. Is he a real person?

    1. He is cited in some of the articles I found in my research. His information coincides with other sources about the current basis for iridology. I would say that he is. And his accounts are by no means the biggest "proof" against iridology. I encourage you to look into for articles and studies since you sound interested.

  2. I highly encourage you to see an Iridologist. I saw one today here in Pace, Florida and was impressed by the results! It is relatively cheap and the session merely takes an hour depending on the skill level of the practitioner. What I enjoyed most about the visit was without knowing anything about me, he could unravel many issues I have going on. I prefer this alternative medicine rather then seeing a traditional doctor and getting medicine to mask symptoms and just get me by while developing side-effects.

    1. Thanks for reading my post! I highly value evidence-based medicine, and the studies are not conclusive. The purpose of this post is not to criticize alternative medicine altogether, but to evaluate iridology. As of now, I don't think anything should replace seeing an MD or DO. Iridology is not generally accepted in medicine, and there is a valid reason for that. As I said in my post, choosing to see an iridologist should be a supplement to the traditional medical care. Thanks again for your comment!

  3. I can only comment as Anonymous because I have no profile to link, however I am without a doubt convinced that iridology is science. I say this only because I have taken numerous people to see my iridologist who is also a homeopathic dr. She has no idea what the ailments are of the people I direct her way. She gets it right 100% of the time. From Cancer to Mental Illness. Maybe not as cancer...but as thyroid or breast or brain. It all shows up. Also my personal readings are always that of stellar health because I take great care of myself thru strict diet and exercise. (The assistant did warn me at the beginning that I might not be happy with my reading.) Preventative medicine is the best. Knowing how to rebuild your body at a cellular level is something only a homeopath will guide you through. A medical doctor will give you a bandaid in all shapes and sizes, but again...that is what most people want. Making the changes that will create a change in your health is quite a commitment, and most people are not willing to commit to those changes.

    1. Making an anonymous comment is fine, and thank you for your comment. It lets me know what some readers might be thinking. As a Public Health major, I think preventive medicine is way better and often cheaper than anything curative. People complain that medical doctors give "band-aids," but I don't think they'll ever fail to tell you to change your diet or exercise more. It's something people already know but don't do, which you seem to be implying. I just don't know if iridology can be accepted as preventive medicine just yet. It has lots to prove to the medical field. Maybe there is a science behind it, but no source has been exactly clear on what it is. And iridology has not been consistent with positive results. Even if it were, nothing can replace a regular visit to your doctor. Continue what seems to be working for you of course. Maybe in the future, there will be more clear answers that solidly back iridology.

    2. You, Elizabeth Akinsoji are seeming to be part of the problem..Stop spouting lies to discredit a community of people that actually want people to get better (unlike normal MDs)...and you are obviously sticking up for the medical community on this subject. Stop trying to persuade people into thinking that holistic medicine doesn't work, and has no scientific background it is total B.S. and you know it. Are you just being paid a nice salary to push your own opinion or the opinion of a corporate medical company that you probably get kick backs from? Most Drs don't care how unhealthy you are, and if you do need to lose weight, etc. they will tell you that you need to lose weight, and eat differently, however, they don't give any REAL advice for people to lose weight, and become more healthy, they tell people to drink toxic garbage (like Ensure) to lose weight or take a pill...this is coming from someone who has seen an iridologist, and has lost over 160 lbs. using NOTHING but homeopathic remedies suggested by an iridologist and other homeopathic healers. MD's NEVER HELPED. So, I suggest you should educate yourself more on the subject BEFORE writing articles, and spouting off inaccurate information from this Joshua David Mather Sr...who has NO creditability at all...and also, I find it interesting that, I have not found hardly any supporting information of who this supposed former Iridologist is that you site in your article to try and disprove Iridology not being science based. You are doing nothing but throwing out your OWN opinion being based on someone ELSE'S opinion...Tell me have you ever been to see an iridologist? I'm thinking not. And btw, prescribing someone pills is NOT a curative, as you suggest in your reply above.

    3. Mathers Sr. is not the only one I cited, and you can also research more on the effectiveness of iridology on if you desire. This post was not to attack holistic medicine, but to reevaluate iridology, which still has little scientific evidence. I never endorsed pills in my response, so I don't understand how you thought I was. I said I preferred preventive medicine which requires the upkeep of health, preventing one from becoming sick in the first place. Again, I value your opinion, but based on the research I had done, I had to come to this conclusion, even without Mathers Sr. I see that you are very enthusiastic about iridology. Do what's been working for you, but again I will state that at this point in time, I don't think it can fully replace the traditional MD or DO.

    4. ...and again, you obviously work in the medical community. Oh, and might I just add, you only site one website contains only 5 small research articles on iridology being used in clinical trials. Which seems to be the whole backbone of YOUR conclusion, I know there is much more research out there about how iridology does work, this practice was used in Ancient Egypt..and no, I don't believe iridology by itself should be used solely to diagnose or treat a disease or ailment either. However, I also don't believe everything I read on a government website to be true to based on this page, and your response to others who have replied here, I have come to the conclusion that this was a college project that you did minimal research on just to get a grade. In the future you should fully research a subject before you try and discredit it.

    5. This wasn't college project, but thank you for your opinion. Thanks for reading!

    6. I've been doing some research on iridology lately, so landed here. The article is well written, unbiased and extremely tolerant, keeping in mind, that most of the documented trials are obviously revealing a pseudoscience pattern in the iris diagnostic method.
      The comments of Anonymous on the other side are intolerant, heavily biased, attacking and to some point insulting. Typically for such kind of proponents, or fanatic "disciples", his comments lack any evidence, reference or any kind of proof, but instead of that are filled with personal stories of "100% success rate", "stellar health" etc. mumbo-jumbo.

      I am really intrigued to find out how one will crash the 1st law of thermodynamics and lose 160lbs of weight, while eating OVER maintenance, or be in a stellar health mode on junk food, lack of exercise, lots of smoking and drinking only and solely by "using NOTHING but homeopathic remedies". Such BS.
      Take care.

    7. Thanks for comment! I appreciate it.

  4. Documentation and hard "proof" are a great thing indeed. The problem is that our medical system is skewed in favour of business. This "research", more often than not, is targeted at outcomes that prove new procedures profitable (rarely curable), where companies can monopolize the market. Almost all drugs in circulation are the cheapened copy of a naturally occuring plant or animal-based remedy and cure. Lets not leave out the extra pills needed to deal with those added side affects. And then probably more pills to deal with those.

    Diagnosing the iris is not patentable, nor is practicing accupuncture or administering essential oil therapy. It is no wonder then that there is a lack of evidence for these basic and "natural" methods of diagnosis. Many of which, can be done from the comfort of your own home. Pineapple shows increasing evidence for killing cancer with 100% success and no evidence of a come back. Chlorella and Spirulina are nature's secret total health weapons used by NASA and the US MILITARY. How many doctors are prescribing these as a proactive line of defense against future illness? Few, if any. We have a skewed system that favours profitable, patentable technology over health benefit and actual cures.

    Corporate America, like your plastic TV or shatterable iPhone, aims to keep the people in a place where we depend on industry to provide us with "accredited, certified products" and knowledge. Just Google FDA scams. One example is Apple's move to a "more efficiently" integrated memory and motherboard, which forces the user to customize their PC through Apple's overpriced store.

    I am not a health professional, but in life I've learned if you find a lot of coincidences, they are probably a little more than just that. Please do your own research to come to your own educated conclusions. Be blessed.

    1. Thank you for your opinion. Thanks for reading!

  5. Yeah this article was not very well thought out and I am surprised you are writing such an article when you are nescience enough to encourage people to be seen by a mainstream murdercine doctor. If you were any good at research you would 1. Know the modern medicine model was created to be as evil as it is (Rockefeller Jo Morgan Rothschild history of syhis medicine do you even know history or medicine sis? No you are ignorant but telling us that nothing can replace going to one of these brainwashed poison vending psychos.. If you can't figure that out how could we be expected to rely on your paltry assessment and assertations about iridology? It is no doubt the human body is connected. Obviously. And it is beyond intelligent. There are many ways to diagnose and they don't involve gutting and cutting the body like mainstream murdercine does or toxically irradiating the body with known cancer causing crap to detect how much other cancer causing crap you've consumed... Cancer is poisoning and malnourishment, and this is extremely well established plain logical scientifically proven fact. Something that's of a specialty of mainstream murdercine to ignore or talk shut about to trick people and sadly it works, even on people who think they're well-learned or who knows maybe you are a shill. Either way your researching and reality checks are subpar. You mean to say you extensively studied iridology and didn't even come across Dr. Robert Morse or see any value in talking about him?? yeah I don't know did you just use a few pages on quack watch to do your "research"? Many people have documented their own eye progress and correlating changes but somehow you missed this large group of evidence too? Lol what are your sources? Your doctor? Hahaha ew... Mainstream murdercine had a deliberate plan to discount real medicine, which you would know if you ever studied the reality and history of it instead of being a tool reminding us all to go get poisoned by a professional today, yeah there is no alternative substitution for mainstream murdercine because "alternative" which has existed since like Forever (as has "alternative" energy so what alternative means nature and you believe the government when they tell you nature is bad and poison is good) is meant to heal not hurt. Near the beginning of modern mainstream murdercine patients with the flu in the early 1900s that had homeopathic or at the time traditional treatment survived, whereas the people who were mostly dying were those poisoned by mainstream murdercine, because if it's not the mainstream toxic consumption of "goods" it is mainstream medicine that ends up killing almost everyone. Yet yeah let's keep paying them to mass murder us? No. You clearly need to do more research on reality and history. Ever hear of Ayurveda? The tongue among other things is used to diagnose. There are many ways our bodies communicate with us. A healthy person usually looks different than a sick person. To think that the eyes and parts like irises don't change or have anything to do with anything is the exact type of outlandish bullshyt mainstream murdercine has been making since its inception. If you want to be respected and share information, research seriously, share real information, and don't tell people that being poisoned by brainwashed assholes is good for their health ( no you didn't say everyone take prescriptions but modern doctors are dumbasses or possibly evil so pushing poison is their main function so what the hell do you want us to go there for?? Oh yeah the shoulder shrug mainstream diagnosis and recommendation of poison is so legit and the body reflecting changes within itself which anyone can see is the quackery ?

    1. Thank you for reading! First, I am only evaluating iridology, not other aspects of natural and holistic therapies or checkups. Second, if you have evidence or statistics that I did not find, then you are free to email me or bring it up here to have a productive discussion. I was limited by the number of peer-reviewed articles on iridology which I mentioned in the post. I know that sometimes it is hard to accept that a lot of the things we do have little scientific evidence. However, the thing that made me skeptical of iridology is that its results were not generally consistent; and when it was consistent, it had a small sample size. Generalizable research has to have a modest sample size as well as consistent among different iridologists and groups of people. I know that there are some drugs in medicine that we do not know exactly how it works; but at the same time, it has a reasonable explanation, and it works on a significant amount of participants consistently. I understand your passion, but attacking me is not the solution. I am open to opinions and other legitimate evidence that you may have. Last, I never meant that nothing can ever replace the traditional medicine we have today; as of right now, I believe nothing should, based on the little scientific evidence I have for it. Since I wrote this over a year ago, I will revisit the topic once again. However, I doubt my opinion will change. If iridology works for you, by all means, continue what works for you. My only recommendation is that for right now, it should not replace a traditional MD or DO.

    2. Also, I attached the sources in the hyperlinks. If they are not working, I will have to provide them at the end of the article too.

  6. Interesting article, thanks! I’ve subscribed to your website posts. Nice ideas in this blog. I agree.
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