Debunking Myths About Iridology

Dr. Ignatz von Peczely, a Hungarian physician and naturopath, discovered iridology (iris diagnosis) in 1848 after the Hungarian Revolution. Allegedly as a boy he broke an owl´s leg by accident

Dr. Ignatz von Peczely, a Hungarian physician and naturopath, discovered iridology (iris diagnosis) in 1848 after the Hungarian Revolution. Allegedly as a boy he broke an owl´s leg by accident and noticed a black stripe in the lower quadrant of the bird´s eye.

We aren´t told if the stripe was present before the accident or developed afterwards. Nonetheless, this event piqued the boy´s curiosity and later developed into a hypothesis that the iris is linked in some way to medical conditions.

Iridology has been around in the U.S. since the 1950s and has carried over as one diagnostic tool for today´s naturopaths. In Germany, approximately 80 percent of non-medically trained health practitioners practice iridology.

Based on test findings, iridology practitioners might prescribe vitamins and other dietary supplements or detoxification regimens for their patients, none of which are generally covered by most insurance plans.

Both professional training and the practice of iridology are unregulated in this country. However, U.S. iridologist organizations include the National Iridology Research Association, the International Association of Iridologists and the Institute of Applied Iridology. Bastyr University has offered an elective course in iridology in the past.

Iridology principles teach practitioners that all organs of the body are linked to the surface of the iris by way of nerve filaments. So organ dysfunction can be diagnosed by way of pigmentary changes on the iris (e.g., color, location, texture). Abnormal nerve impulses from other body parts are thought to affect the iris and change iris patterns in different ways.

But the truth is that markings in the iris rarely, if ever, change. Since the iris contracts and relaxes based on the amount of light presented to it, these markings can look different in different levels of light.

There are three constitutional types of iris color used by iridologists for medical diagnostics: blue-eyed (lymphatic) with tendencies toward tonsil irritation and sinusitis, irritated appendix, acne, asthma and fluid retention; pure brown-eyed (hematogenic) with tendencies toward anemia, arthritis, digestive disorders, diabetes mellitus and circulatory disorders; and mixed or biliary with tendencies toward hyper and hypoglycemia, constipation, liver and gallbladder disorders and colitis.

There´s at least one company that markets iris analysis on the Internet if one sends a check plus photos containing 4 million pixels of both irises. The company claims to analyze iris structure, problems related to different sectors of the iris, color, reflex zone and special signs such as Radii Solaris, sodium ring, cholesterol ring, lymphatic rosary, nerve rings, psoric spots and scurf rim. Iridology proponents claim that a cholesterol ring around the iris is indicative of atherosclerosis.

Iridology testing is performed using a slitlamp or penlight, a magnifying glass and photographs of one´s iris. One commercial iris analytical system is known as the Bexel Irina. Iridology charts might not be consistent in their interpretation of iris signs when compared side by side by different practitioners.

Iridology Studies
More than 80 publications on iridology have been reported in literature. During the late 1970s a study was conducted comparing three ophthalmologists and three iridologists who examined the irises of 143 patients to determine which had medically diagnosed kidney disease. Results indicated that iridology didn´t enhance the diagnosis for any of the 48 with known disease.

In another study in the late 1980s, five Dutch iridologists failed to diagnose gallbladder disease from color slides of the right iris in 78 patients with this confirmed medical condition.

Munstedt and associates conducted a prospective case control study to determine if iridology could detect breast, ovary, uterus, prostate or colorectal cancer. Results indicated that an experienced iridology practitioner was able to accurately diagnose three cases out of 110 (68 with histologically proven cancers and 42 controls).

From 1999 to 2003, Yoo and associates sought to compare the distribution of the tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha gene in 87 Korean hypertensive patients along with a control group of 79. He also wanted to see if TNF-alpha, hypertension and iris constitution correlated in any way.

Yoo reported that there indeed was an association with all three. Results indicated that TNF-alpha gene polymorphism could offer a protective role against hypertension relative to different TNF-alpha synthesis, secretion and activity in selected individuals.

Bottom Line
Few randomized, double blind clinical trials with control arms evaluating the validity of iridology have been published. Iris testing shouldn´t be relied upon for a diagnosis of medical conditions without full medical history, lab workup and physical exam by a medical physician.

The risk of iridology testing false positives (treating a disease that isn´t confirmed by other objective testing) as well as false negatives (missing a serious disease that´s confirmed by other objective testing) appears high based on the paucity of published literature in this field of practice.

Finally, we shouldn´t underestimate the value of an ophthalmologist doing a thorough retinal exam, along with blood work, to confirm high cholesterol blood levels in people at risk for heart disease.

CATHY CREGER ROSENBAUM is a holistic clinical pharmacist. Contact her via

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