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Heavy Drinking & Smoking Make You Look Older

S u m m a r y :
Heavy drinking and heavy smoking add years to your face; the two have been linked with visible signs of ageing in a new study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

Looking Older

Drinking and smoking are known to be harmful to health, and a new research conducted by investigators from the University of Southern Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark, suggests that they add years to your life, at least in your appearance.

The study is based upon the analysis of data from the Copenhagen City Heart Study concerning the heart health, and visible ageing signs of over 11,500 adults for around 11.5 years. The participants were also asked about their lifestyle and health, and how much they drank and smoked, prior to their clinic visits.

Ageing concept, young and old comparison (stock image).
Photo Credit: © blackday / Fotolia.

Signs of Ageing

The check-up of the participants included testing whether they had a group of 4 signs of ageing that had previously been associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease and/or death:-

  1. Earlobe creases
  2. A greyish opaque ring around the peripheral cornea of the eyes, arcus corneae
  3. Yellow-orange plaques on the eyelids, xanthelasmata
  4. Male pattern baldness characterised by receding hairline or bald patches on the head

The findings show that arcus corneae is the most common ageing sign in both men and women: 60% among the men over 70 and women over 80. Xanthelasmata is the least common sign, with only 5% among men and women over 50.

Also, a receding hairline was found in 80% of the men over 40.

Looking into the Eyes of Smokers & Drinkers

The results also demonstrate a heightened risk of displaying signs of ageing—making one look older than one’s true age—among those participants who smoke and drink heavily. Women who have 28 or more drinks per week have a 33% higher risk of arcus corneae than those whose alcohol intake is at 7 per week, and men having 35 or more drinks weekly have a 35% higher risk.

Furthermore, smoking a pack of 20 cigarettes everyday for 15 to 30 years is linked with a 41% greater risk among women, and a 12% higher risk among men.

Does Light Drinking Slow Ageing?

On the other hand, while light to moderate drinking has not been linked with biological ageing, it is also not associated with slowing of visible ageing, given that light to moderate drinkers do not show any difference in terms of ageing signs from non-drinkers.

Male pattern baldness, though, does not appear to be consistently linked with heavy drinking and smoking. The authors suggest that this is because this trait is more strongly influenced by other factors like genes and male hormones.

Heavy Drinking & Smoking Increases Ageing

It is to be noted that this study is purely observational—no conclusion about cause and effect can be drawn.

“This is the first prospective study to show that alcohol and smoking are associated with the development of visible age-related signs and thus generally looking older than one’s actual age….This may reflect that heavy drinking and smoking increases general ageing of the body,” conclude the authors.


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