The color of your eyes may indicate whether you’re at higher – or lower -- risk for such skin conditions as vitiligo and melanoma, new research suggests.
The study, led by the University of Colorado School of Medicine, shows people with blue eyes are less likely to have vitiligo, an autoimmune skin disease that causes pigment loss and irregular white patches of skin and hair.
The research also suggests people with brown eyes may be less likely to develop melanoma, the most dangerous kind of skin cancer.
The study, published in the journal Nature Genetics, tracked almost 3,000 people with vitiligo of Non-Hispanic European ancestry -- identifying 13 new genes that predispose people to developing the condition, which Michael Jackson is believed to have suffered. Among the vitiligo patients, 27 percent had blue/gray eyes, 43 percent had tan or brown eyes and 30 percent had green or hazel eyes. That differs from the normal distribution of eye color; about 52 percent of Americans of Non-Hispanic European ancestry have blue/gray eyes, 22 percent have green/hazel eyes, and 27 percent have tan or brown eyes.
Dr. Richard Spritz, director of the CU Human Medical Genetics and Genomics Program, said the study primarily looked at vitiligo but also has implications for melanoma.
"Genetically, in some ways vitiligo and melanoma are polar opposites. Some of the same genetic variations that make one more likely to have vitiligo make one less likely to have melanoma, and vice-versa," said Spritz. "Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease, in which a person's immune system attacks their normal pigment cells. We think that vitiligo represents over-activity of a normal process by which one's immune system searches out and destroys early cancerous melanoma cells."
People with vitiligo and their close relatives are at higher risk for thyroid disease, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Spritz said this suggests genes may be factors in these autoimmune diseases.
The study was funded by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases of the National Institutes of Health.