Do you look your age? If not, it may be a sign of how quickly your body is aging.

A new study from researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Max Planck Partner Institute in Shanghai looked at 3-D images of a person's face and how these images can be used to reveal details about their overall health.  

Using a special camera called the 3dMDface System, researchers took 3-D facial scans of 332 Chinese people and found that the images were more reliable at predicting a participant's biological age than even a DNA marker test. The 3-D scans looked beyond the wrinkles and other visible signs of aging and noted patterns in facial changes that occur as we get older. Researchers found that as people age, their mouths grow longer, the corners of their eyes droop, their noses get wider, their foreheads narrow, and the distances between their mouths and noses increase. You can't hide that with wrinkle cream.

By matching these patterns with blood markers currently used to predict aging, such as those for cholesterol and albumin, researchers were able to determine how closely a person's true age matched how quickly his or her body was aging.

“Overall facial features show higher correlations with age than the 42 blood markers that are profiles in routine physical exams,” said the study's senior researcher Jing-Dong Han, a professor of computational biology.

The implications for this research go beyond keeping people honest about their ages. Han found that people younger than 40 can look up to six years younger or six years older than their actual ages, based on their 3-D facial imaging. That variation increases with age. A 50-year-old might look as young as 40 or as old as 60. And the difference goes beyond what they see in the mirror. The facial changes correlate with levels "good" and "bad" cholesterol in the blood.

So a 50-year-old who looks 60 would have "bad" cholesterol levels matching those of an older person, and that could make a big difference in the methods ordered by doctors to treat various conditions. Han also thinks 3-D imaging could be used to predict which patients may be aging more quickly and might need earlier intervention for other diseases.

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