June 7, 2011 -- A close look into a woman's wrinkles may predict her risk for bone fractures, according to new findings by Yale researchers.
The deeper the wrinkles and the softer the skin of post-menopausal women the lower their bones density is likely to be, the study concluded.
The link between the two could be collagen, a type of protein found in both the skin and skeleton, according to Dr. Lubna Pal, a reproductive endocrinologist at Yale School of Medicine. Pal was the lead author of the study which was presented Monday at the Endocrine Society's Annual Meeting in Boston.
"Early menopause is a dynamic phase for both the skeleton and skin," Pal said.
During menopause, the loss in collagen contributes to both wrinkles and lower bone density.
The study looked at 114 women who recently went through menopause. Pal and her colleagues measured the deepness of wrinkles and the toughness of skin in 11 areas on the face and neck. Those with the deeper wrinkles and softer skin had lower bone density than the others in the group.
"The worse the wrinkles, the lesser the bone density, and this relationship was independent of age or of factors known to influence bone mass," said Pal.
The researchers used bone density scans to confirm their findings.
The study was one in a larger clinical trial still underway to determine whether certain types of estrogen therapies will help women prevent bone density loss and potentially delay wrinkles.
"We know estrogen protects against bone loss, but does it protect against skin wrinkles?" said Pal.
Pal cautioned that the research is not about reversing the signs of aging. Instead, she said that the finding makes a stronger case that "skin reflects the health of the skeleton."
While lower bone density may be one risk factor for fractures, it doesn't mean that the women would go on to develop osteoporosis.
"We're not saying that those with wrinkles have bones that will crumple," said Pal. "We're seeing if things on the outside of us can indicate a risk to things inside of us."
This initial research could provide insight into an earlier detection of conditions such as osteopoenia – a condition of brittle bones -- and perhaps even osteoporosis.
"Osteoporosis may not be such a silent disease," said Pal. "This is just the beginning of that story."