The Surprising Thing Your Baby’s Tears May Reveal

Could testing tears replace some more invasive medical tests?

Testing a Baby's Tears tantawat/Shutterstock
Medical testing helps ensure everything's A-okay with you and your baby—but sometimes, it's kind of painful to bear. And watching your little one get stuck with a needle for a blood draw can be almost as tough on you as it is on her. But scientists are working on a new way to do an effective medical test on something that your baby can much more easily share—her tears.

Researchers at the Chemical Advanced Resolution Methods (ChARM) Laboratory at Michigan Tech are working toward developing a simple test protocol to use tear samples to assess vitamin deficiencies in babies. Vitamin deficiencies in babies often go undetected until they develop symptoms—and at that point, the deficiency could cause permanent damage. "Your body cannot manufacture vitamins, and vitamins reflect available food sources in your body. That's what makes them good indicators of nutritional health," according to Maryam Khaksari, the lead author of the study, which was published in Experimental Eye Research. But with vitamin deficiencies, "symptom-presentation substantially lags behind the chemical level deficiency,"

The researchers tested the blood and tears of 15 newborns and their parents, and discovered that vitamin B and E levels in the tear samples reflected the vitamin levels in the blood, though babies shed more water-soluble B vitamins in their tears, and less of the fat-soluble E vitamin. With further research, the researchers are hopeful they can create a benchmark that enables them to use this much less invasive and easier testing method to check a baby's nutritional health. "Since tears contain vitamins," Khaksari says, "they might have real potential to replace other clinical tests."

And that may mean a few fewer tears shed by your baby—and by you.