If one is a perfect score and ten is terrible, my eyes are a three. As in, very good indeed. Not in terms of eyesight – my vision is somewhere between bat and mole – but in terms of overall health being reflected by the state of my irises and the whites of my eyes. This is a practice where eyes are not just a windows to the soul, but also to the lymph, cardio, digestive and nervous systems. It is all there in front of me, on what looks like a pie chart, except it is an eye chart, rather like reflexologym with each part of the body represented somewhere in the iris.
“You’re in very good health overall,” says the iridologist, peering at my eyeballs on his computer screen, enlarged so that they resemble planets. “Apart from the yellowy orange bits above your pupils, which suggest your upper transverse colon could do with a flush out.” Have you heard of iridology? There are only 13 registered iridologists in Ireland, compared with over 400 members of the Irish Society of Homepaths. Iridology remains niche. According to the Irish Insititute of Iridology, “The entire body is represented reflexologically on the iris. To the trained iridologist, the colour, texture and the various markings suggest areas of underactivity, overactivity, toxicity, etc. which have been inherited or have been brought on by diet, lifestyle, stress, etc.” Intrigued, after hearing a friend talking about its diagnostic benefits, I book a session with a UK iridologist, Phil Hall. For 90 minutes, he peers at my eyes on his laptop screen, and tells me about my physical and emotional health, as though my eyeballs are crystal balls.
Obviously, I am entirely sceptical. Who wouldn’t be? I’ve read ‘Iridology Is Nonsense’ on Quackwatch, and several more related articles. How iridology has its origins in antiquity, but its modern version dates back to Ignaz von Peczley, a Hungarian doctor (1822-1911) who as a child noticed a change in the iris of an owl when the owl fractured its leg bone. When the bone healed, a strand marking the event remained in the fibres of the owl’s iris. That’s basically the start of iridology as we know it. A kid and an owl. It has no scientific basis whatsoever, say its critics. It is pseudoscience. And yet without knowing anything about me, not even my name, the iridologist confirms a few significant facts that he could not have previously known.
Damage – now healed – around the liver (I am a recovering alcoholic); prone to cystitis (yes, very); cardio vascular system in good nick (recently verified by GP); strong spine (much yoga); some remaining stress indicators due to unspecified significant life events in the past year or two (he has no idea what these might have been, but is accurate).
“Iridology is complex,” Phil Hall tells me. “For instance, I couldn’t differentiate between Crohns and colitis by looking at your eye. But it can give you a more personalised view of your own health.” In other words, iridology may not detect serious disease like cancer, but it may be able to indicate your general state of health, and what to watch out for. It is genuinely fascinating when he explains how he interprets the rings, fibres, markings and dots. And yet it does feel quite Tarot-ish. How does it work in relation to biometrics? If your irises change all the time, how can biometric eye scans work?
Other non-science based practices – kinesiology, homeopathy, naturopathy, crystal healing, reiki, biofeedback, ear candling, dozens more – are roundly dismissed by the Western medical profession because they cannot be proved scientifically. Complementary practitioners say that this is because one-size-fits-all scientific tests don’t work on subtler levels. As a punter, who do you listen to?
Obviously you may not wish to treat a cancer tumour with a crystal (I knew someone who did this – they died), but this does not mean we have to dismiss non-proven practices out of hand, unless they are actively harmful. Almost all complementary practices advocate similar ideas – eating lots of fresh unprocessed or raw food, avoiding harmful substances such as tobacco, alcohol, and refined sugar, getting lots of non-violent exercise, and avoiding or carefully managing stress levels to avoid the over-production of stress hormones.
This is pretty much the advice I receive during the iridology consultation – avoid wheat, refined sugar, salt, dairy, processed food, fags and booze. Colonic hydrotherapy, herbs to help the lymphatic system. ‘Natural’ shampoos and deodrants, and ‘natural’ fabrics. Yoga. Walk a lot, drink a lot of water. This feedback is vague, but helpful and health-focused. It is a nudge towards healthier living – whether it comes from an iridology consultation, or another form of complementary practice – the outcome is the same. Be healthier. Look after your body better. Be more conscious of your wellbeing.
Perhaps the trick is not to rely entirely on complementary therapies for everything. Do them, try them, be open to them, but take them with a large pinch of Himalayan pink salt crystals. What keeps us healthy is not people analysing our eyeballs, but what we place in our shopping baskets, and how we live our daily lives.