Smoking and heavy drinking linked to visible premature ageing

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February 2018

People who smoke and drink heavily are more likely to show visible signs of physical ageing that make them appear older than their real age, suggests recent research published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

Researchers from the University of Southern Denmark in Copenhagen analysed data on 11,613 adults, whose heart health and visible ageing signs were tracked for an average of 11.5 years as part of the Copenhagen City Heart Study.

This study, which started in 1976, has been monitoring a random sample of Danish people over the age of 20 living in the Copenhagen area in 1981-3, 1991-4, and in 2001-03.

For the new study, the researchers set out to investigate whether alcohol and smoking were associated with four visible age-related signs – arcus corneae (a greyish opaque coloured ring or arc around the peripheral cornea of both eyes); xanthelasmata (yellow-orange plaques on the eyelids); earlobe crease; and male pattern baldness.

Data showed that average alcohol consumption was 2.6 drinks per week for women and 11.4 for men.

Just over half the women (57 per cent) and around two thirds of the men (67 per cent) were current smokers.

Analysis of drinking and smoking patterns revealed a consistently heightened risk of looking older than one’s actual age and developing arcus corneae, earlobe creases, and xanthelasmata among those who smoked and drank heavily.

Compared with not smoking, smoking one pack of 20 cigarettes daily for between 15 and 30 years was associated with a 41 per cent heightened risk of arcus corneae among women and a 12 per cent heightened risk among men.

The researchers concluded: ‘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.’