4 Health Problems Your Skin Can Help You Detect

Signs of brittle bones, diabetes and vitamin deficiencies may surface on your skin before you notice other symptoms

By Gina Roberts-Grey
Originally Posted On May 2, 2013

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Your skin can say a lot about you: Laugh lines could indicate perennial good cheer, a winter tan hints at a relaxing vacation and blisters may tell of a weekend spent gardening.
 
But if you pay closer attention, doctors say, your skin has important things to say about your health, too — it can be a crucial early-warning system for a range of concerns.
 
Bone fracture risk A study of 114 recently postmenopausal women found that deep wrinkles on the face and neck could indicate an increased risk for broken bones. The reason: women with such wrinkles were more likely to have lower bone density in areas like the hips, spine and heels.

Estrogen promotes the production of the protein collagen, which your skin and bones both rely on to maintain density. So as a woman's level of estrogen declines in menopause, says Dr. Ronald Young, co-director of the Menopause Center at Texas Children's Pavilion for Women in Houston, "collagen in the skin is depleted, which means the skin isn't as firm and elastic, and wrinkles develop."

Deeper, worsening wrinkles are a sign that the body is producing less collagen which often means bone density is decreasing as well. "The worse the wrinkles, the lesser the bone density," lead researcher Lubna Pal, a Yale School of Medicine associate professor, said in a statement. "This relationship was independent of age or of factors known to influence bone mass."

Diabetes If you discover thick, dark, velvety patches on folds of skin on your neck, armpit or groin, your doctor might want to arrange a blood test to check for diabetes. These patches, known as acanthosis nigricans, could be benign or a normal side effect of obesity, says dermatologist Janet Lin of Baltimore's Mercy Medical Center. But they also could be a sign of diabetes.
 
The patches, which sometimes appear on the face and hands as well, may itch or smell bad, "but most people only complain about the appearance of their skin, saying that it's 'dirty,'" Lin says.
 
It's not clear why these patches develop in some diabetics and not others, Lin says, nor do they appear to be correlated with the severity of the disorder. But if you notice such patches on your skin, Lin says, call your doctor to set up a fasting blood glucose test.
 
Thyroid Concerns Located at the base of your neck just above the collarbone, the thyroid gland is responsible for hormones that, among other functions, regulate your body temperature, metabolism and nervous system as well as the health of skin, hair and nails.

Omega-3 Deficiency Not only do omega-3 fatty acids, found most readily in oily fish like salmon, sardines and tuna, support brain function and reduce inflammation, they can also help lower the risk of heart disease, cancer and arthritis. In addition, omega-3s play a vital role by strengthening skin cells and helping to ensure hydration.

Dull, dry skin or complexion could indicate an omega-3 deficiency, Christianson says, because its absence can slow your natural exfoliation cycle, also potentially leading to dryness or dandruff.