Research presented in August at the European Society of Cardiology's annual ESC Congress suggests that wrinkles may not just be an aesthetic concern - they may be a sign of serious illness.
The research has connected the presence of deep forehead wrinkles to a higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD).
The research may indicate an easier and less invasive approach to identifying people with CVD, which is a plus for patients and doctors alike. CVD risk factors such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure are not something doctors can visually observe during an exam. Currently, to identify if patients have these markers for CVD, blood draws and other testing are required.
The researchers on the project suggest that if a physician observes the presence of deep forehead wrinkles, he or she can couple regular testing with lifestyle change suggestions including a healthy diet and exercise.
The risk of developing CVD is a consequence of aging, negative lifestyle choices and genetics. Although these factors can increase the risk of developing CVD, preventative treatments can help.
During the study, the researchers investigated the connection between the presence of deep horizontal forehead wrinkles and increased risk of developing CVD by examining 3,200 healthy, working adults aged 32, 42, 52 and 62.
At the beginning of the study, the participants were examined and given a score from zero to three relating to the depth of their forehead wrinkles. Zero meant no wrinkles were present, and three indicated that the participant had a significant number of deep lines.
The researchers followed the participants for 20 years. During this observation period, 233 participants died from a range of causes. Of these deaths, 15.2 percent had wrinkle scores of two and three, 6.6 percent had wrinkles scores of one, and 2.1 percent did not have any wrinkles.
Individuals who had a wrinkle score had a somewhat higher risk of developing and dying from CVD than participants with no wrinkles. Individuals who had a wrinkle score of two or three faced an almost 10 times greater risk of dying than those with wrinkle scores of zero.
During the study, the researchers took into consideration both demographic and lifestyle factors that could contribute to the development of CVD, such as age, gender, education, smoking status and diabetes.
Other physical changes linked to an increased cardiovascular disease risk include male-pattern baldness, creases in the earlobe and xanthelasma, a condition that causes the development of pockets of cholesterol underneath the skin around the eyes.
The researchers are still unsure why a connection between forehead wrinkles and an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease may exist, but one possible reason for the link is the development of atherosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries caused by the buildup of plaque.
Atherosclerosis is a primary cause of heart attacks and stroke.
The researchers also reported that job-related stress could be a factor in the development of both forehead wrinkles and CVD.
Dr. Mona Alqulali, a Bettendorf, Iowa, cosmetic surgeon and OB-GYN, confirms the link between stress and skin conditions.
"Stress can interfere with collagen production, the primary protein of the skin that gives it its shape and ability to stretch and retract. So, aim to reduce stress for your skin and your heart health," said Alqulali.
When collagen production decreases, the occurrence of wrinkles goes up.
As for a connection between wrinkles and CVD, Alqulali is not sure.
"It is an interesting theory. If it is really a marker for cardiovascular disease, it may lead to earlier interventions," Alqulali said.
European Society of Cardiology. "Deep forehead wrinkles may signal a higher risk for cardiovascular mortality." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 August 2018.