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Can This Reveal the Quality of Your Eyesight?

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Story at-a-glance -

  • Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) created a hybrid image titled “Marilyn Einstein” to help you determine if you have good vision
  • If your eyesight is good, you should be able to see a detailed picture of Albert Einstein when viewing the picture close up
  • As the image gets further away and/or smaller (or if you squint your eyes), an image of Marilyn Monroe will appear
  • If you have vision problems, you may only be able to see Marilyn Monroe

By Dr. Mercola

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created a hybrid image titled "Marilyn Einstein" to help you determine if you have good vision. The picture combines a low spatial frequency (i.e. blurry) image of Marilyn Monroe with a high spatial frequency (i.e. clear) image of Albert Einstein.

If your eyesight is working as it should, you should be able to see a detailed picture of Einstein when viewing the picture close up. As the image gets further away and/or smaller (or if you squint your eyes), the image of Monroe will appear.

Although the Marilyn Einstein image has recently become popular online, it was created by Dr. Aude Oliva for a March 2007 issue of New Scientist magazine.1 When the image was first created, MIT researchers experimented with showing it to people for different periods of time, which gave insight into how our brains process visual information.

Hybrid 'Marilyn Einstein' Image Gives Clues About Vision Problems and Brain Processing

People who saw the hybrid image for just 30 milliseconds could only pick up the blurry features of Monroe while those who saw the image for 150 milliseconds were able to pick out the finer details of Einstein's face.

This makes sense since if you only see an image for a very brief period your brain will only pick up its overall shape, as your brain processes low spatial resolution information first.2

When given more time, however, your brain will begin to process the finer details. If you're unable to see Einstein's face even when viewing them image at your leisure, and close up, it could be a sign of vision problems. As reported by The Christian Science Monitor:3

"The optical illusion can highlight vision problems – people who might need glasses are often unable to pick out the fine details of Mr. Einstein's face, and are left seeing an image of Ms. Monroe."

Changing Your Mindset Might Help Change Your Vision

It's interesting to note that your perceptions of how well you'll see Einstein may impact the way you actually see it. According to research by Harvard University Psychologist Ellen Langer and colleagues, when people were primed to believe they had excellent eyesight, their vision improved.4

Likewise, when participants were told their eyesight would improve with practice, it did. The same occurred when people adopted a "try and you will succeed" mindset -- they tried, and their vision successfully improved.

The scenario also worked when a typical eye chart was reversed, so instead of starting out large and getting smaller, the smaller letters were on the top. The researchers wrote:5

"Because letters get progressively smaller on successive lines, people expect that they will be able to read the first few lines only. When participants viewed a reversed chart and a shifted chart, they were able to see letters they could not see before. Thus, mind-set manipulation can counteract physiological limits imposed on vision."

This could be an example of a placebo effect, but it could also be a manifestation of what happens when people relax and, as the researchers noted, adopt a mindset that vision will improve. This is actually the foundation of the Bates Method, which teaches you how to retrain your eyes to relax, thereby allowing you to see more clearly.

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How Relaxation and Faith Can Help You See Better

Download Interview Transcript

The Bates Method isn't really an exercise; it's more of a mental approach. Your vision is not compromised because of weak eye muscles. They're strong enough. They're just too tensed to work properly, so you have to relax them.

Another part of the process is "faith"—faith that your eyes "know what they're doing" and can see well. The problem is that once you start wearing corrective lenses, you're actually worsening your vision. This progressive worsening of your vision can lead to a defeatist mentality if you don't realize that what you're doing is creating the problem. Greg Marsh, a certified natural vision coach, explains:

"Dr. Bates' keyword is 'strain.' If you strain your eyes, strain your thoughts, and strain your vision, these muscles are going to start getting tight. The strain is the essence of everything.

Imagine you're on a tightrope, you're walking, and you're feeling your way forward. That's how the eyes want to work. If you get tense on a tightrope, you're dead, right? Instead of thinking of it as exercises, you have to go into it in a really subtle way; it's more like a meditation."

Be certain that you try the experiment Greg discusses in the video above by creating a pinhole with your hand and surprising yourself with how clear your vision becomes without any corrective lenses. Just bend your finger to create a small pinhole between the skin folds.

Now hold the pinhole in front of your eye and notice how much more in focus everything is that you're looking at. As they say, seeing is believing and this will go a long way to convince you that you can actually see well without corrective lenses.

Going Without Glasses Might Help Improve Your Vision

By wearing glasses, you're essentially retraining your eyes to strain in order to see all day long. Ideally, you'll want to remove your glasses whenever you can safely do so. Also, make sure you have appropriate lighting, especially when reading.

"The amount of light is huge," Greg notes. "While somebody is making the transition from needing glasses to not needing glasses, things like using more light really help, like if you're reading a book."

The two most common eyesight conditions requiring glasses are myopia (nearsightedness, which usually appears in childhood or during teenage years) and presbyopia (a type of farsightedness that leads to reading glasses at middle age). They both are very responsive to the Bates Method, and in fact the approach is nearly identical. If you have a mild prescription, you can simply go more and more frequently without glasses as you improve your eyesight. Of course, you should always wear glasses if they are required for driving, until you pass your vision test without them.

One of the most famous Bates Method techniques is palming. Look around and notice the level of clarity of your vision at present. Then, simply place the center of your palms over your eyes. Relax your shoulders. You may want to lean forward onto a table or a stack of pillows, to facilitate relaxation.

Relax like this for at least two minutes. Then remove your hands, open your eyes, and notice whether anything looks clearer. Usually, it will. Also remember that your mindset is important. With faith in yourself and your body's self-regenerative ability, the toughest hurdle is learning to relax, so your eyes can function in accord with their natural design.

Your Eyes Benefit from Outdoor Light

Spending time outdoors offers exposure to multiple types of light, including ultraviolet B rays (UVB, which leads to the production of vitamin D) and visible bright light. Research shows that people with nearsightedness have lower blood levels of vitamin D,6 which supports the function of muscle tissue around the lens in your eye. When exposed to outdoor light, for instance, cells in your retina trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that slows down growth of the eye and perhaps stops the elongation of the eye during development. Nature reported:5

"Retinal dopamine is normally produced on a diurnal cycle — ramping up during the day — and it tells the eye to switch from rod-based, nighttime vision to cone-based, daytime vision. Researchers now suspect that under dim (typically indoor) lighting, the cycle is disrupted, with consequences for eye growth.

'If our system does not get a strong enough diurnal rhythm, things go out of control,' says [researcher Regan] Ashby, who is now at the University of Canberra. 'The system starts to get a bit noisy and noisy means that it just grows in its own irregular fashion.'"

A study by researcher Ian Morgan of the Australian National University suggests three hours per day with light levels of at least 10,000 lux may protect children from nearsightedness.8 This is the amount of light you would be exposed to on a bright summer day. An indoor classroom, by comparison, would only provide about 500 lux. It seems clear that the more time children spend outdoors, the lower their risk of nearsightedness becomes.

Powerhouse Nutrients for Vision Health

Another part of the eye-health equation is decidedly your diet. For starters, high insulin levels from excess carbohydrates can disturb the delicate choreography that normally coordinates eyeball lengthening and lens growth. And if the eyeball grows too long, the lens can no longer flatten itself enough to focus a sharp image on the retina. This theory is also consistent with observations that you're more likely to develop myopia if you are overweight or have adult-onset diabetes, both of which involve elevated insulin levels.

Following my nutrition plan will automatically reduce, or eliminate, excess sugar and grain intake from your diet while helping you optimize your insulin levels. Certain nutrients and foods, however, are also especially important for vision health. These include:

Dark Leafy Greens

The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin are primarily found in green leafy vegetables, with kale and spinach topping the list of lutein-rich foods. Lutein and zeaxanthin are both important nutrients for eye health,9 as both of them are found in high concentrations in your macula—the small central part of your retina responsible for detailed central vision.

Orange Pepper

According to one 1998 study in the British Journal of Ophthalmology orange pepper had the highest amount of zeaxanthin of the 33 fruits and vegetables tested.10 Zeaxanthin cannot be made by your body, so you must get it from your diet.

Organic Pastured Egg Yolks

Egg yolk is a source of both lutein and zeaxanthin along with healthy fat and protein, and while the total amount of carotenoids is lower than many vegetables, they're in a highly absorbable, nearly ideal form. According to recent research,11 adding a couple of eggs to your salad can also increase the carotenoid absorption from the whole meal as much as ninefold. Keep in mind that once you heat egg yolks (or spinach) the lutein and zeaxanthin become damaged, and will not perform as well in protecting your vision; so cook your eggs as little as possible, such as poached, soft-boiled or raw.

Wild-Caught Alaskan Salmon

Rich in omega-3s, the omega-3 fat DHA is concentrated in your eye's retina. It provides structural support to cell membranes that boost eye health and protect retinal function, and research suggests eating more foods rich in these fats may slow macular degeneration. In fact, those with the highest intake of animal-based omega-3 fats have a 60 percent lower risk of advanced macular degeneration compared to those who consume the least.12

A 2009 study also found that those with the highest consumption of omega-3 fats were 30 percent less likely to progress to the advanced form of the disease over a 12-year period,13 and a second study published in 2009 also found that those with diets high in omega-3 fats along with vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, lutein, and zeaxanthin had a lower risk of macular degeneration.14


Wild-caught Alaskan salmon is a good source of astaxanthin, but you may not be able to eat enough of it to reap optimal clinical results. Astaxanthin is produced only by the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis when its water supply dries up, forcing it to protect itself from ultraviolet radiation.

Compelling evidence suggests this potent antioxidant may be among the most important nutrients for the prevention of blindness. It's a much more powerful antioxidant than both lutein and zeaxanthin and has been found to have protective benefits against a number of eye-related problems, including:

Cataracts Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) Cystoid macular edema
Diabetic retinopathy Glaucoma Inflammatory eye diseases (i.e., retinitis, iritis, keratitis, and scleritis)
Retinal arterial occlusion Venous occlusion

Dr. Mark Tso,15 now of the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University, but who was my boss when I worked at the University of Illinois Eyebank in the1970s, has demonstrated that astaxanthin easily crosses into the tissues of your eye and exerts its effects safely and with more potency than any of the other carotenoids, without adverse reactions.

Depending on your individual situation, you may want to take an astaxanthin supplement. I recommend starting with 4 milligrams (mg) per day. Krill oil also contains high quality animal-based omega-3 fat in combination with naturally occurring astaxanthin, albeit at lower levels than what you'll get from an astaxanthin supplement.

A diet rich in whole foods will be best for your vision health, while avoiding processed foods will help you avoid many risks to your eyesight. For instance, a diet high in trans fat appears to contribute to macular degeneration by interfering with omega-3 fats in your body.

Even though its health risks are well known, trans fat is still found in many processed foods and baked goods, including margarine, shortening, fried foods like French fries, fried chicken, doughnuts, cookies, pastries, and crackers. You'll also want to avoid artificial sweeteners, as vision problems are one of the many potential acute symptoms of aspartame poisoning.