Wrinkles are an unavoidable reality of life, but along with serving as a niggling reminder that you're no spring chicken, researchers now claim they could also be used as an early warning sign for certain health problems in the future.
A new study, presented in Munich this week at the European Society of Cardiology Congress 2018, has suggested that deep forehead wrinkles, a visible marker of age, could be linked to a higher risk of dying of cardiovascular disease.
Researchers followed a group of 3,200 adults for 20 years while monitoring different visible signs of aging and their cardiovascular health. After accounting for factors such as their gender and lifestyle, the researchers found that people with a heavily wrinkled brow faced almost 10 times the risk of dying compared with those with zero. Strangely enough, previous research has shown that crow's feet, wrinkles near the side of your eyes, have no relationship with cardiovascular risk.
More traditional methods of monitoring heart health, such as blood pressure and lipid profiles, are still considerably more effective at predicting a person’s cardiovascular risk. However, the researchers argue this knowledge of wrinkles could serve as a cheap and easy early warning sign.
"You can't see or feel risk factors like high cholesterol or hypertension," study author Yolande Esquirol, associate professor of occupational health at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Toulouse in France, explained in a statement. "We explored forehead wrinkles as a marker because it's so simple and visual. Just looking at a person's face could sound an alarm, then we could give advice to lower risk."
All of this might sound a bit alarmist, so it’s worth highlighting that this is no reason to desperately worry if your grandparent is looking a little more shriveled than usual. First of all, the researchers are not even sure why this relationship between heart health and brow wrinkles exists. They discovered an association between two factors, not an underlying mechanism that clearly links them.
That said, the researchers did speculate that the relationship could exist because of plaque that builds up inside your arteries, a process known as atherosclerosis. Over time, plaque hardens and narrows your arteries, allowing less oxygen-rich blood to circulate to your heart and other parts of the body. Blood vessels in the forehead are small, so they may be more sensitive to plaque build-up.
“This is the first time a link has been established between cardiovascular risk and forehead wrinkles so the findings do need to be confirmed in future studies," cautions Dr Esquirol, "but the practice could be used now in physicians' offices and clinics."
"It doesn't cost anything and there is no risk," concluded Dr Esquirol.