If you look in the mirror and see new wrinkles forming, you likely blame aging skin. But emerging wrinkles may actually be signalling diminishing bone density. It turns out osteoporosis and skin crepiness share some surprising connections.

Several studies reveal that women with osteoporosis and osteopenia tend to have more pronounced wrinkling and other signs of skin aging compared to their peers with normal bone density. Why does low bone mass translate to wrinkly skin? A few reasons explain this link:

  • Collagen loss – the collagen matrix that keeps skin plump and smooth is the same collagen that maintains the skin plump and prevents wrinkling.
  • Hormone changes – oestrogen decline during menopause can accelerates bone loss and decreases collagen and skin thickness. This contributes to sagging and wrinkling.

Studies show that skin and bones share common building blocks-proteins, and aging is accompanied by changes in skin and deterioration of bone quantity and quality. Deepening and worsening skin wrinkles are related to lower bone density – the worse the wrinkles, the lesser the bone density, and this relationship is independent of age or of factors known to influence bone mass.

Your wrinkles are trying to tell you to take care of your bones! Don’t dismiss these visible clues your body provides. Boosting bone density through having collagen daily, including weight-bearing exercise, nutrition, and other interventions can renew skin thickness and hydration.

The risk of breaking a hip is a third higher for women who are vegetarian than those who are regular meat eaters, according to a large UK study.

The increase in risk may arise from meat-free diets tending to have less protein, which helps build muscle mass, and possible deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, such as calcium and vitamin B12, which help strengthen bones.

Women are more likely to break their hips than men, especially as they get older, because after the menopause, levels of the sex hormone oestrogen fall, leading to weaker bones. Broken hips are a significant cause of deaths in older people as they are hard to recover from and can result in extended immobility and health complications. “The effect on health is pretty big,” says James Webster at the University of Leeds, UK.

Previous studies have suggested that vegetarians and vegans have weaker bones, so Webster’s team took advantage of a large ongoing study that has tracked the health and lifestyle of over 26,000 women in the UK for about 20 years. They were aged between 35 and 69 at recruitment, and none were transgender as far as the researchers know.

Overall, about 3 per cent of participants broke their hip during that time. Those who were vegetarian had a 33 per cent higher risk of this happening compared with those who consumed meat at least five times a week.

There was no difference in risk between regular meat eaters and those who ate lesser amounts, or just ate fish. Vegans weren’t included in the study.

Other research has found that being vegetarian is better for health in different ways – for instance, it is linked with a lower risk of heart disease. All such studies, including the latest one, are observational, however, and so can’t prove that diet causes different health patterns – only that there are correlations.

Such studies can make meat-free diets seem more beneficial than they really are because vegetarians usually have healthier lifestyles in other ways, such as avoiding smoking and heavy drinking. The best kind of medical evidence comes from randomised trials, but these are hard to do for a major dietary choice such as whether or not to eat meat.

Social stress may release hormones that affect bone loss, a finding that might be linked to the higher incidence of bone fractures after the menopause.

In a study of more than 8000 women aged 50 to 79, researchers found that those who reported higher levels of social stress – defined as strained relationships or stress related to social ties – were also at higher risk of bone fractures.

Women who reported high social strain and poorer quality relationships – and therefore, higher levels of stress – were found to have a larger decline in their bone density measurements over these years.

After adjusting for age, race, education, and other life style effects such as smoking and hormone therapy use, the team found that for each point of higher social strain as measured by the questionnaires, there was an associated increase of about 0.08 per cent loss of bone mineral density at the femoral neck – a portion of the hip. They also saw about 0.1 per cent greater loss across the whole hip, and about 0.7 per cent greater loss at the lower spine.

Previous research found that higher levels of stress hormones such as cortisol were associated with lower bone mineral density in the spine, and the team suggests that social stress may increase fracture risk by altering bone-regulating hormones.

Postmenopausal women may be more likely to experience social stress than their male peers. “There is research showing that social stress is higher in aging women than in men and this may be attributed to women being more likely to be caregivers in older age,” says Follis.

The team found that women with low social strain tended to be more educated and more physically active than those with high social strain. Black, Latina, and Native American women were more likely to report high social strain than White and Asian women.

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