Have lots of wrinkles? You might want to skip the pricy face cream for the moment and instead put your money towards a bone density screening. The reason: The deeper your facial wrinkles during the first few years of menopause, the lower your bone density – and the higher your risk of bone fracture will be.
That’s the word from a brand new study to be presented on Monday at the Endocrine Society’s 93rd Annual Meeting in Boston.
Experts say the study clearly demonstrates a striking connection between the thickness or density of a woman’s bones and the depth of her wrinkles, with those who have the deepest lines and creases far more likely to have low bone density. The thinner or “less dense” your bones are, the more likely you are to suffer from hip and other fractures, which are among the leading causes of non-disease death in seniors.
“In postmenopausal women the appearance of the skin may offer a glimpse of the skeletal well-being, a relationship not previously described,” said Lubna Pal, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist and associate professor at Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.
How wrinkles predict your bone health
The new findings were gleaned from a much larger, ongoing multicenter study called the Kronos Early Estrogen Prevention Study or KEEPS. This leg of the study included 114 women ranging in age from the late 40’s to early 50’s who had their last menstrual period within the previous three years. None of the women were taking any hormone therapy, and they excluded all those who had undergone any cosmetic skin procedures.
For this phase of the study researchers examined the women’s skin and rendered a combined score based on the number of areas of the face and neck where wrinkles were found, along with the depth of those wrinkles. Using a medical device known as “durometer” they also measured the firmness of the skin at the forehead and the cheeks.
Next all the women underwent a procedure known as a DEXA scan – or X-ray absorptiometry. This measured the density of their bones and told researchers how much bone breakdown had already occurred.
The study result: The greater the number of wrinkles a woman had, and the deeper those wrinkles were, the lower her bone density score. This, say researchers was true for all areas of bone measurement, including the hip, lumbar spine and heel. The correlation also held up regardless of the woman’s age, her body fat composition or other factors known to impact bone density.
Moreover, the doctors also found the reverse was true: The firmer a woman’s skin was the greater her bone density.
“This information,” Pal said, “may allow for the possibility of identifying postmenopausal
Bones and skin: Making the connection
While doctors aren’t certain exactly why the correlation exists, Pal believes it may have something to do our collagen supply – the proteins that help keep our facial structure supported and firm, thus keeping wrinkles from forming.
When we’re young collagen protein fibers form a kind of “cross-hatching ” underneath our skin, creating a type of biological “netting” that supports the skin and keeps it looking firm.
As we age, however, one by one these collagen fibers naturally begin to break down – creating“holes” in that facial support net. As this occurs, skin begins to sag and a wrinkle forms.
While the collagen breakdown process takes place naturally beginning as early as our late 30’s and 40’s, how we treat our skin can play a role as well. Exposure to certain environmental factors such as pollution, and cigarette smoke, as well as excess sun exposure generate what are called “free radicals” – molecules that speed up the breakdown of collagen and hurry-along the aging process of the skin.
Not coincidentally, Pal says that collagen also plays a key role in bone density – and therein may lie the link between wrinkles and bone health. To know for sure, however, Pal says more studies are needed.
“Ultimately, we want to know if [the] intensity of skin wrinkles can allow identification of women who are more likely to fracture a bone, especially the femoral neck or the hip, an often fatal injury in older people,” she said.
If the correlation proves true in additional research, Pal says that including the skin – and the amount of wrinkles a woman has – as a risk factor for bone density loss may help doctors more easily isolate those women who need bone density screening and bone density care.
Currently there are a wide variety of medications available to help stop bone loss and even reverse it, along with a number of dietary measures that can help. This includes eating more foods rich in both calcium and vitamin D, and taking vitamin D supplements. To learn more about the foods that can increase bone health visit www.YourMenopause.com
Colette Bouchez is an award winning medical journalist and author of ten books on women’s health including her latest, “The Hot Flash Solution” and “Your Perfectly Pampered Menopause: Health, Beauty, Life and Style For the Best Years of Your Life.”