How Excess Affects Your Looks

New research published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health examines the link between heavy drinking and smoking and visible signs of ageing.

Researchers led by Dr Janne Tolstrup at the University of Southern Denmark noted visible signs of ageing ‘are often a good indicator of an individual’s actual biological age’ and noticeable signs of ageing are likely to indicate poor health.

The team focused on four such signs:

  • male pattern baldness;
  • earlobe creases;
  • arcus corneae – a white or grey ring accumulating in the margins of the cornea (a condition more common in older adults) which can sometimes be a marker of high cholesterol or even predict coronary artery disease; and
  • xanthelasmata – yellowish plaques that form over or around the eyelids; the fatty deposits can be a sign of high cholesterol.

Previous studies have linked all four signs of ageing with a higher risk of poor cardiovascular health, premature death or both.

The Danish team studied more than 11,600 adults whose health had been followed for 11.5 years on average via data available from the Copenhagen City Heart Study (a large-scale, prospective study started in 1976 which examined a random population of young Danish adults over the age of 20 at the beginning of the study).

At the time of Dr Tolstrup’s study, the average age of the participants was 51. Women consumed an average 2.6 drinks per week and men consumed 11.4. (Also 57 per cent of women and 67 per cent of men smoked.)

The study revealed ‘the risk of developing arcus corneae, earlobe crease and xanthelasmata increased stepwise with increased smoking.’
For alcohol consumption, ‘a high intake was associated with the risk of developing arcus corneae and earlobe crease, but not xanthelasmata’. Importantly, 28 or more drinks per week correlated with a 33 per cent higher risk of arcus corneae in women; and men who had more than 35 drinks per week were 35 per cent more likely to display the sign.

Smoking one pack of cigarettes every day for 15-30 years put women at a 41 per cent higher risk of having the corneal condition, and men at a 12 per cent higher risk.

A comparison between non- drinkers and those who drink lightly- to-moderately (one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men) revealed ‘no di erence in terms of visible signs of ageing’.

Additionally, male pattern baldness did not seem to be in uenced by drinking and smoking.

Dr Tolstrup’s team concluded: ‘High alcohol consumption and smoking predict development of visible age-related signs. This is the first prospective study to show that heavy alcohol use and smoking are associated with generally looking older than one’s actual age.’

Sources: Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health and Medical News Today.