Smoking and alcohol consumption have never been known to be body-friendly habits, but fresh-off-the-presses research from Denmark is bringing an additional spotlight on these behaviors, focusing on the visible toll they can take on your physical appearance.
The research, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, alleges that heavy drinking and smoking could make your appearance age at a faster pace by wreaking four specific types of havoc: earlobe creases, gray rings or arcs around the corneas, yellow-orange skin tags and male pattern baldness. Who knew earlobes could show signs of aging, right?
The study followed 11,500 people — with a current average age of 51 — for more than 40 years. Researchers discovered that heavy drinkers are between 33 and 35 percent more likely to show visible signs of aging, while those who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day for 15 or more years have a 41 percent increased chance of developing these traits.
"We wanted to study the signs of aging because they seem to have some kind of predictive value for how long your life is going to be on average," Janne Tolstrup, senior study author and University of Southern Denmark National Institute of Public Health, told Time Health.
The study also found that those who engage in moderate levels of both do not show any higher signs of aging than those who abstain. In cases of excessive drinking, classified in the study as more than 28 drinks each week, women have a 33 percent higher likelihood of getting age-related gray cornea rings compared to those who indulge in seven drinks or less per week. The risks are similar for men.
The risk of earlobe creases is also higher among heavy drinkers: about 26 to 36 percent. One effect that is associated with smoking and not drinking is xanthelasmata, or yellow-orange collections of cholesterol that typically appear on or around the eyelids.
"What is interesting about the results is that we can see those signs with the eye, for example, very fast, whereas for things like high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels, we have to make advanced measurements to obtain them," Tolstrup said.
The findings come in a timely fashion, as the third Thursday of November is the American Cancer Association's Great American Smokeout — an annual event that hopes to encourage the country's smokers to quit the habit. According to its website, smoking cigarettes and tobacco remains the largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the world, yet about 36.5 million American smokers continue to take their chances.
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