As if aging wasn’t challenging enough, a recent Yale University study has found that women in early menopause who have deep wrinkles between their brows may also have problems with bone density. The more wrinkles a woman in early menopause has, the lower her bone density.

Women over 50 are at the greatest risk for bone fractures from osteoporosis, bone tissue thinning, and the loss of bone density over time, according to the study.

Dr. Lubna Pal, director of the Reproductive Aging and Bone Health Program at Yale Reproductive Endocrinology, said that the study demonstrates an association, not an exact cause, between decreased bone density and early skin wrinkling. She explained that it could provide a low-cost method of identifying postmenopausal women potentially at risk for bone fracture.

The endocrine system includes the adrenals, pancreas, ovaries, testes, and pituitary and thyroid glands, which all produce different hormones. An endocrinologist treats endocrinosis or endocrinopathy (hormone imbalance) related to diseases such as diabetes, thyroid disease, bone disease, infertility and obesity.

The study, which was presented at the Endocrine Society meeting in Boston, had researchers studying 114 women in their late 40s and 50s who were within three years of menopause and not undergoing hormone or bone density drug treatment, said Pal. Women who have had cosmetic surgery, or have damaged skin from extensive sun exposure or those who utilized tanning beds were also not included in the study.

Pal said that different areas of the face wrinkle at different rates, and after adjusting for all parameters, the forehead wrinkles between the brows had the strongest impact. This area is often one of the first to receive Botox treatments, she said, explaining that the connection between bones and skin is that they share common building blocks – a group of proteins called collagens. In aging, the collagen changes visibly cause sagging skin and wrinkles, and invisibly affects bone quality and quantity, she noted.

In the study, the researchers measured the depth and number of wrinkles in the forehead, face and neck, and the firmness or rigidity of the skin. The women’s bone density was then tested by ultrasound and x-ray. Pal said the relationship was evident at all skeletal test sites, which included hip, lumbar, spine and heel, and was independent of age, body composition or other factors known to affect bone density.

This study was part of a larger study into menopausal hormone therapy, and Pal said that a longer, four-year study is necessary to look at the relationship between wrinkles and the risk of bone fracture.

“We want to know if intensity of skin wrinkles can allow identification of women who are more likely to fracture a bone,” she said. Most importantly, fractures of the neck, femur or hip are frequently fatal to older people, she noted.