Having wrinkles on your forehead is typically associated with aging or stress, but according to a new study, it could be a sign of cardiovascular disease.
According to research presented at the European Society of Cardiology’s annual conference, people who have a lot of deep forehead wrinkles (more than usual for their age) may have a higher risk of dying of cardiovascular disease. The study’s authors suggest that observing wrinkles above a person’s eyebrows may be an easy and cost-efficient way of helping to identify people who may be at high risk for cardiovascular disease.
“You can’t see or feel risk factors like high cholesterol or hypertension,” study author Dr. Yolande Esquirol, associate professor of occupational health at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Toulouse in France, said 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.”
Unsurprisingly, that advice would include the usual tips for heart health, including exercising regularly and eating healthier food. Although the risk of heart disease increases with age, the authors stress that there are lifestyle changes — like diet and exercise — that can help reduce the risk of a cardiovascular event.
The study was conducted with 3,200 adult participants aged 32, 42, 52 and 62 at the beginning of the study who were all healthy and were assessed by doctors regarding to the extent of their forehead wrinkles (with a score of zero meaning no wrinkles and three meaning “numerous deep wrinkles”).
After tracking the participants for 20 years, the researchers found that those with a wrinkle score of one had a slightly higher risk of dying of cardiovascular disease than people with no wrinkles. Then the findings got more staggering: Participants with wrinkle scores of two and three had almost 10 times the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those with a wrinkle score of zero. (This was after researchers adjusted for factors like age, gender, education, smoking status, blood pressure, heart rate, diabetes and lipid levels.)
And although keeping an eye out for forehead wrinkles isn’t more effective than existing health markers like blood pressure and lipid profiles, they could be useful in indicating there might be an issue far earlier than one might go through the standard battery of tests, which means if cardiovascular disease is caught earlier, there may be a better chance of surviving.
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So why does this happen? In short, the researchers don’t know yet but hypothesize that it could have to do with atherosclerosis — hardening of the arteries due to plaque buildup — which is a major contributor to heart attacks and other cardiovascular events.
As it turns out, changes in collagen protein and oxidative stress appear to have a role in both causing atherosclerosis and wrinkles, so that may be part of the key to fully understanding this link. In addition, the blood vessels in your forehead are on the small side and as a result may be more sensitive to plaque buildup, making deep forehead wrinkles an early signs of blood vessel aging or problems.
“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,” said Esquirol in the statement, “but the practice could be used now in physicians’ offices and clinics.”
While no one should have their appearance judged by the wrinkles on their face, in this particular case, it could be an important key to heart health.