Most of us would rather avoid facial wrinkles if we can, even if they do denote wisdom, but could having more of them be a marker for future health problems? Our faces age along with the rest of our body and the same forces that damage our skin also injure blood vessels. So, it’s not a stretch to say there’s a link – and that’s exactly what a new study shows. This study suggests that the number of facial wrinkles we have on a certain portion of our face may be linked with the odds of developing cardiovascular disease.
What the Study Showed
The study was presented at the European Society of Cardiology meeting in Europe this year. As part of the study, researchers examined the facial skin of 3,200 middle-aged adults and scored their skin based on how many deep facial wrinkles they had on their forehead. The scores ranged from 0 for no facial wrinkles to 3 for many deep wrinkles. After following the adults for twenty years, they compared the subjects’ health outcomes to their wrinkle scores.
Surprisingly, they found that adults who scored high on the forehead wrinkle scale were more likely to succumb to heart disease over the 20-year period. In fact, those with a wrinkle score of 2 to 3 were 10-times more likely to die of heart disease relative to those who had few or no deep forehead facial wrinkles. That’s a substantial difference!
Of course, this study is correlational, but researchers controlled for other factors that influence the risk of cardiovascular disease, including gender, age, heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, lipids, smoking history, exercise history, and alcohol use and the relationship still held. Deep forehead facial wrinkles correlated with cardiovascular risk. Yet, there could still be another factor that explains the correlation. For example, people who wear sunscreen would likely have fewer deep forehead wrinkles and they might be more lifestyle conscious as well. Yet, it’s an intriguing association.
It might sound a bit far-fetched that facial wrinkles could be a marker of higher cardiovascular risk. But, when you consider the collagen issue, the fact that skin and the inner walls of blood vessels both contain collagen and collagen damage plays a role in both wrinkles and heart disease, it’s not so surprising. Of course, you have to also consider that people can “cheat” the system by getting Botox or filler that makes those forehead wrinkles less obvious!
Are Facial Wrinkles and Heart Health Linked?
What do heart health and facial wrinkles have in common? The link is likely related to sustained damage to proteins called collagen. Collagen is the major protein that gives your skin support and helps it stay firm and wrinkle-free. As we age and are exposed to factors that damage collagen, like the sun, collagen breaks down and becomes more disorganized. Once this happens, collagen no longer serves as a good support structure for the skin. That’s when you start to see skin sagging and skin wrinkling.
But, collagen also lines the walls of blood vessels and when it’s damaged, it increases the risk of a clot forming within the blood vessel wall. When a clot forms in a blood vessel that supplies the heart, it may block blood flow to the heart and lead to death or a heart attack. Such damage can also trigger the build-up of plaque within the wall of the artery, what we know of as atherosclerosis.
So, skin aging and blood vessel aging have some commonalities because both involve injury to collagen. How does collagen become damaged? One likely mechanism is oxidative stress and inflammation. Oxidative stress can be triggered by eating an unhealthy diet, smoking, overuse of alcohol, exposure to toxins, lack of exercise, and stress. As you may have noticed, these factors are also linked with cardiovascular disease and premature skin aging. High blood pressure can also damage the collagen that supports the blood vessel wall.
Now, scientists are speculating that examining forehead facial wrinkles might be a useful way to screen people at high risk of cardiovascular disease. Along with other factors, like high blood pressure, lipid abnormalities, waist size, and BMI, deep forehead facial wrinkles could be a red flag for higher cardiovascular risk.
Other Markers for Heart Disease Risk
Forehead facial wrinkles aren’t the only potential bodily marker for a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. A study carried out by researchers at Copenhagen University in Denmark identified other facial markers suggestive of higher cardiovascular risk. Cholesterol deposits on the eyelids, also known as xanthelasma are a marker of high cholesterol levels in the blood. Earlobe creases, a receding hairline, and bald spots on the head were all correlated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease in this study, even after controlling for age. For men, cholesterol deposits on the eyelids and a receding hairline were most strongly linked with heart disease risk.
Of course, these superficial markers will probably not replace the other markers of higher cardiovascular risk we’re more familiar with, like blood pressure, lipid profile, and markers of blood sugar control. These are all markers we should follow closely and control as best we can. Your physician can also test for an inflammatory marker called high-sensitivity C-reactive protein as well as higher levels of fibrinogen, a protein involved in blood clotting, as an indicator of risk. These cardiovascular risk markers can be measured through a simple blood test. If you believe you’re at high risk of heart disease, talk to your doctor about tests you can use for monitoring. Most importantly, make sure you’re following a heart-healthy lifestyle that includes a healthy diet, exercise, adequate sleep, and stress management. Even if you’re at genetically high risk of developing cardiovascular disease, lifestyle can significantly modify your risk. Lifestyle trumps genetics when it comes to keeping your heart healthy.
The Bottom Line
The lines on your face, particularly your forehead, may say something about the health of your heart. So, if you’re seeing deep facial wrinkles form, use it as a wake-up call to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Medical News Today. “Forehead wrinkles — an early sign of cardiovascular disease?”
LiveScience.com. “Inflammation: Causes, Symptoms & Anti-Inflammatory Diet”
ScienceNordic.com. “Your Face Reveals Risk of Heart Attack”
LabTestsOnline. “Heart Disease”
University Health News Daily. “Triglyceride Control”