While wrinkles may be a telltale (and not-so-welcome) sign of aging, a health breakthrough out of Yale University has uncovered a link between wrinkles and aging, and this connection is about more than just skin care. It turns out that wrinkles are more than skin-deep—they may actually be a sign of osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a common age-related disease characterized by the weakening of bones, making them more prone to fractures. Losing bone mass through osteoporosis can become so severe that seemingly simple tasks—such as standing up, coughing, or hugging a loved one—can cause pain and even fracturing. About 10 million people in the U.S. suffer from osteoporosis, while another three million suffer from osteopenia, which is a smaller decline in bone mass that usually leads to an osteoporosis diagnosis. While approximately 80% of all patients diagnosed with this disease are female, older men are also at risk.
According to the Yale University study, doctors may be able to determine a woman’s risk of bone fractures by simply examining her wrinkles. Researchers discovered that skin quality, particularly how severe and distributed wrinkles appear, can be helpful in determining the risk of osteoporosis for women who are in the early stages of menopause. The researchers theorized that skin quality—determined by the number of wrinkles and the degree of hardening—could reflect the quality of bone mineral density at this stage of aging. Being able to predict bone mineral density would mean being able to predict the risk of developing osteoporosis.
Using a subgroup of women in the early menopause stage, researchers assessed each participant’s wrinkles around 11 areas on the face and neck. They also analyzed skin rigidity around the forehead and cheek area, as well as skeletal density and mass.
According to the findings, the severity and progression of a woman’s wrinkles are directly related to lower bone density, meaning these women are at a greater risk of having osteoporosis. As wrinkles worsened, the lesser bone density there was. This relationship held true even with other osteoporosis risk factors, including age.
This study’s findings are helpful for physicians, who may be able to more easily identify the osteoporosis risk for postmenopausal women, before having to put patients through a battery of expensive tests. Knowing that there’s a link between wrinkles and skeletal health is also important because it allows patients to take charge of their bone health. If you notice increasing wrinkles on your skin, it may be a sign that you’re at an increased risk of osteoporosis. You now know that it’s as good a time as ever to start strengthening your bones to prevent the onset of osteoporosis. Increasing your vitamin D and calcium intake is always a good place to start.
Peart, K., “Not Just Skin and Bones: Wrinkles Could Predict Women’s Bone Fracture Risk,” Yale News; https://news.yale.edu/2011/06/06/not-just-skin-and-bones-wrinkles-could-predict-women-s-bone-fracture-risk, last accessed May 27, 2013.