If you could know how long you have left to live, would you like to know? A recent study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology suggests that your eyes can lift the curtain on your life expectancy. A team of international researchers has discovered a link between the biological age of a person’s retina and the risk of death.
The retina – a membrane at the back of the eye – contains millions of light-sensitive cells (rods and cones) and other nerve cells that receive and organize visual information.
A study of nearly 47,000 adults found that people whose retinas were “older” than their actual age were more likely to die over the next decade.
The discovery could have profound implications for neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
“The retina provides a unique, accessible ‘window’ to evaluate underlying pathological processes of systemic vascular and neurological diseases associated with increased risks of mortality,” said corresponding author Dr Mingguang He of the Center for Eye Research Australia.
READ MORE: How to Live Longer: Simple Addition of Food Could Be a ‘Bridge’ to Old Age, New Study Says
How the researchers collected their findings
Researchers followed the participants, all between the ages of 40 and 69, for an average of 11 years.
Each person had their fundus – the back surface of the eye – scanned as part of the UK Biobank study; a large-scale biomedical database and research resource, containing in-depth genetic and health information from half a million UK participants.
The international team compared the “biological age” of each retina to that person’s chronological age – and found a “retina age difference” in many participants.
Large gaps were associated with 49 to 67 percent higher risks of death from any cause than cardiovascular disease or cancer.
Bill Nighy ‘inherited’ his health from his mother [INSIGHT]
Four Fruits That Can Help Protect Joints From Arthritis [TIPS]
Virologist warns against new Covid variants [ADVICE]
This was after taking into account potentially influential factors such as high blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), lifestyle habits and ethnicity.
“Our new findings have established that the age difference in the retina is an independent predictor of increased mortality risk, particularly of non-cardiovascular disease/non-cancer death. These findings suggest that retinal age may be a clinically significant biomarker of aging,” the researchers said.
For every one-year increase in the age difference, scientists found a two and three percent increase, respectively, in the risk of death from any cause or a specific cause.
The findings add to evidence that the network of small blood vessels in the retina is a reliable indicator of the overall health of the body’s circulatory and brain systems.
READ MORE: Arthritis: ‘Distilled’ alcohol increases risk of ‘painful’ crystals forming in joints
Although the risks of illness and death increase with age, it’s clear that they vary significantly among people of the same age, the team said.
The study authors used an advanced type of AI (artificial intelligence) known as “deep learning” to accurately predict a person’s retinal age based on images of the fundus.
The new technology differs from similar tissue, cell and chemical tests of biological aging that the study authors said are fraught with ethical and privacy concerns. These tests are also invasive, expensive, and time-consuming.
The team validated their screening model using some 19,200 fundus images of the right eyes of 11,052 participants in relatively good health. This showed a strong association between predicted retinal age and actual age, with an overall accuracy to within three and a half years.
The same process applied to the left eyes yielded similar results. Scientists then assessed the retinal age difference in the remaining 35,917 volunteers.
During the study period, 1,871 (five percent) participants died. Of this group, 321 (17 percent) died of cardiovascular disease, 1018 (54.5 percent) died of cancer, and 532 (28.5 percent) died of other causes, including dementia.
More than half of the participants fell into the category of “fast agers” — those whose retinas looked older than their real age — with 51 percent having a retinal age difference of more than three years, 28 percent having a gap of five. years and 4.5 percent more than 10 years apart.
The new findings, combined with previous research, add weight to “the hypothesis that the retina plays an important role in the aging process and is sensitive to the cumulative damage of aging that increases mortality risk,” Dr. He wrote.
“Our findings indicate that retinal age gap may be a potential biomarker of aging closely related to risk of death, implying the potential of the retinal image as a screening tool for risk stratification and delivery of tailored interventions,” the authors concluded. of the research.
This paper previously covered a study that found a link between diet, circadian rhythms, eye health and longevity.