Your eye color may tell you something about your risk for alcohol addiction, according to a surprising new study from researchers at the University of Vermont.
The study, published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics: Neuropsychiatric Genetics (Part B) found that people with light-colored eyes, including blue, green, grey, and brown in the center but lighter around the edges showed a higher frequency of alcohol dependency compared to those with darker eyes. Blue eyes showed the strongest association with alcohol dependency.
Researchers compared the genetic sequences that determine eye color to those linked to alcoholism, and "found that they line up along the same chromosome, in close proximity" which may help explain the association. However, in an interview with Health, the researchers emphasized that they “still don’t know the reason” for the correlation, and that more research is needed, according to first author Arvis Sulovari, a doctoral student in cellular, molecular and biomedical sciences.
Using a clinical and genetic database of more 10,000 people in the U.S. with and without psychiatric illnesses, the researchers were able to identify 1,263 patients of European ancestry with diagnosed alcohol addictions, and then noticed a higher risk among those with light-colored eyes. They then ran their analysis three times over to see if the pattern held true among different age groups, sexes and among people from different parts of the country, ending up with the same results: that "lighter colored eyes had a significantly higher prevalence," according to Sulovari.
This could mean that in the future eye color could be used to pinpoint which people are most at risk for alcoholism.
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"This is something that may prove useful in the future for other researchers or in clinics when figuring out the cause of alcoholism," Sulovari says.
"It's definitely not the silver bullet for solving the problem of alcohol dependency, but it's a start."
Researchers have looked into the health risks of blue eyes in the past, with both positive and negative results. While a 2012 study found that people with blue eyes are the least likely to develop vitiligo, a patchy skin condition caused by an autoimmune attack on pigment, another showed a much higher risk of moles, and in turn melanoma, for those with the light eyes.
For now, the researchers consider the link to alcoholism to be preliminary research, and hope to reach stronger conclusions about the complicated dance between socioeconomics, genetics and disease in their continuing studies on mental illness. They're also hoping it will shed greater light on the issue of alcoholism.
"I think many people don’t realize that there is genetic background to it," Sulovari explains. "This is a mental illness, not just something that comes from excessive drinking, and there needs to be more of an effort to find out about it."
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