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Wrinkles Can Predict Bone Density

A menopausal woman's face can provide hints about her bones, new study says

As if those brow furrows and laugh lines weren't distressing enough for a woman, now a new study says facial wrinkles may be sending a message about her bone density.

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A menopausal woman’s facial wrinkles, particularly between the brow, could indicate low bone density.

A menopausal woman's facial wrinkles, particularly between the brow, could indicate low bone density. — Photo by Image Source/Aurora

Yale scientists have found that the more wrinkles a woman has in her early menopause years, the lower her bone density. This is important because women over 50 are at the greatest risk for bone fractures from osteoporosis, the thinning of bone tissue and loss of bone density over time.

"Women need to be aware that our skin is giving us a glimpse of what's happening inside to our skeleton," Lubna Pal, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at Yale's School of Medicine, told the Bulletin.

She says the study found that those furrows between the brows, which are often the first target of Botox treatments, were the strongest link between bone density and wrinkles.

"Different areas of the face wrinkle at different rates and after adjusting for all the parameters, the strongest impact was with the forehead wrinkles between the brows," she says

Although the connection between skin and bone might not be obvious, Pal explained that they share common building blocks — a group of proteins called collagens. As women age, the changes in collagen that visibly cause the skin to sag and wrinkle are also invisibly affecting bone quality and quantity.

The study demonstrates only an association — not an exact cause — between decreased bone density and early skin wrinkling, Pal emphasized, but it still could give doctors a low-cost way of identifying postmenopausal women who may be at risk for bone fracture.

The Yale researchers studied 114 women in their late 40s and 50s who were within three years of menopause and not on hormone or bone density drug therapy, she says. The scientists also excluded women who had undergone any cosmetic skin procedures or who may have damaged their skin by tanning beds or extensive exposure to the sun.

The scientists measured the number and depth of the women's forehead, face and neck wrinkles, as well as the skin's firmness or rigidity. They then tested their bone density by x-ray and ultrasound.

The findings, which were presented Monday in Boston at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, showed that women with the worst wrinkles had the lowest bone density. Conversely, those women with firm skin and the fewest wrinkles had greater bone density.

The relationship was evident at all skeletal sites tested, including hip, lumbar, spine and heel, and was independent of age, body composition or other factors known to affect bone density.

The study is part of a larger, multicenter investigation into menopausal hormone therapy.

Pal says a longer, four-year study is needed to look at the relationship between wrinkles and the risk of bone fracture.

"We want to know if intensity of skin wrinkles can allow identification of women who are more likely to fracture a bone," she says, especially fractures of the neck, femur or hip — injuries often fatal to older people.

You may also like: Your skin care guide.

Candy Sagon writes about health and nutrition for the Bulletin.

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