Gazing into the mirror and seeing premature crow’s feet, a cold sore, or rogue strands of hair popping up on your chin can feel like the end of the world.
But the real problem could be much deeper than a pure vanity issue. Your body is a pretty powerful diagnostic tool—and some of those unsightly problems might actually be signs of serious health conditions that shouldn’t be ignored.
Wondering what your face is trying to tell you? Here are four physical symptoms that could be hinting at health problems to come.
Since skin and bones share common building-block proteins, wrinkles could be an indicator of lower bone density and a higher risk of fractures, according to a study by the Yale School of Medicine. Sure, both are a natural byproduct of aging, but if wrinkles are cropping up prematurely, consider seeing the doctor to check bone density. S lathering on anti-aging treatments would only address the skin issue—to care for bone health, eat plenty of calcium-rich foods like yogurt, spinach, kale, and white beans in conjunction with vitamin D in the form of egg yolks, tuna, and some good old-fashioned time in the sun.
In a study published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia, researchers found that carriers of herpes simplex virus 1, which causes cold sores, were nearly twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. While there isn’t a proven causal relationship between the two, researchers hypothesize that a compromised immune system in old age makes people more susceptible to the herpes virus spreading to the brain, particularly the hippocampus and temporal lobes—the main areas where early Alzheimer’s develops. No need to fear the disease if a normal flare-up occurs, but elderly people and their family members should pay attention if cold sores are accompanied by other early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Female facial hair
Women with facial hair could be struggling with a hormonal imbalance and potentially, polycystic ovarian syndrome (clusters of small ovarian cysts containing immature eggs). This condition is often accompanied by insulin resistance that can increase risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease. If you're dealing with unwanted fuzz, see a physician to address any potential hormonal imbalances.
Impaired sense of smell
While this isn’t a symptom you can see, a diminishing sense of smell bears a spot on this list because of its clear link to a serious disease. In a study published in the Annals of Neurology, elderly people who had trouble smelling items like bananas, lemons, and cinnamon had a higher likelihood of developing Parkinson’s disease within four years. Little is known about the relationship between impaired olfaction and Parkinson’s, but recognizing a declining sense of smell could lead to early diagnosis of the disease. If smell and taste seem to be weakened, ask a doctor to monitor you or your loved ones for other possible symptoms of Parkinson’s.
Bottom line? Your body has a way of signaling when something’s up. Since doctors have seen just about everything, it’s important for each individual patient to understand what is and isn't normal for their body, and to consult a professional when something out of the ordinary does need to be looked into and remember to eat healthy!
Illustration by Foley Wu