Seven Red Flags You’re Aging Fast

Is your body is sending you a message that diseases of old age are creeping up on you? Dr. Oz reveals 7 red flags that you could be aging too fast. Break out the measuring tape, a mirror and a little medical know-how, it’s time for a self-exam.

Posted on

When it comes to aging, there are so many environmental, genetic and biological factors it is hard to gauge the rate an individual will age. But the human body is remarkable about broadcasting clues that can foreshadow future problems. If you are tuned in to these small pieces of information and can learn to recognize the implications, you might be able to successfully slow the aging process.

Finger Length

If you ask a palm reader, they'll tell you there is a lot that can be interpreted from the lines, lengths and shape of the hand. And they may be on to something. Research is separating science from superstition: by examining each finger, you might discover subtle hints about future joint deterioration. Studies have shown that women with index fingers (digit number 2) shorter than their ring fingers (digit number 4) are at higher risk for osteoarthritis, particularly the knee.  

Osteoarthritis is a painful degenerative disease that worsens as we age. Although it can be caused by a prior injury or years of being overweight and/or physically inactive, the biological influence is thought to be hormones, principally estrogen and testosterone. These hormones also affect the length of fingers, particularly the ring finger. A man's index finger is typically shorter than his ring finger because he receives more testosterone, while a woman's index and ring fingers are more equal in length. And since osteoarthritis typically occurs at an advanced age when hormones wane, the relationship between finger length and osteoarthritis seems plausible.

Bra Size

We already know that body fat influences the risk for type 2 diabetes, a condition marked by high blood glucose from ineffective insulin (insulin resistance), the hormone that shuttles sugar in and out of cells. People who are overweight are at much higher risk for type 2 diabetes because fat cells are less responsive to insulin compared to non-fat cells (like muscle). Breast development begins in puberty and continues through the early 20s. Young breast tissue is comprised of highly active fat cells, so breast size could be a marker for type 2 diabetes.

Using the information collected during a long-term Nurses Health Study, Canadian researchers found that women who wore a D cup or greater during their 20s had an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. However, it is unclear whether the hormonally active breast tissue contributes more to insulin resistance than other types of fat tissue.

Behind-the-Knee Pain

Finding the source of pain behind the knee can be tricky due to the knee's complex anatomy that includes bone, tendons, fluid, ligaments, arteries and veins. Behind the knee, there is a large vein that, when blocked, can cause swelling that is hot to the touch and sometimes painful.

Blood clots tend to form here because the knee sits low in the body and is crimped when the leg is bent, sometimes for hours on end. This prevents the one-way valves in the vein from flowing freely back up to the heart, causing blood to pool and become prone to clots. If these clots should break away and travel in the bloodstream, they can lodge in blood vessels elsewhere - in the brain (causing stroke), lungs (causing lung embolism) and heart (causing heart attack).

Jean Size

It is becoming plainly clear in the medical community that belly fat raises risks for many medical conditions, so if your jean size is creeping north, it is bad news. Abdominal fat is a major risk factor for insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and death. But now there is another reason to worry. Adults who find their waistlines expanding in middle age even if they had a normal body mass index (BMI) doubled their risk for getting dementia in their 70s. If they had both an increase in BMI and wide abdominal girth (greater than 25 cm around), the dementia risk was 3.6 times higher, compared to people with a healthy abdominal girth and BMI. Click here to calculate your BMI.

The causal link is unclear, but it may be that fat wraps around organs in your midsection and releases chemicals that damage brain tissue. An increase in jean size in your 40s may predict cognitive decline later in life.

Poor Balance

We all take a misstep once in a while, even when sober and fully charged with sleep. If a young person falls, they will most likely stand up, brush themselves off and go on their merry way. A fall in an older person is not that easily handled.

Coordination and balance are remarkable because they require 3 sensory systems to be healthy and aligned: vision, body kinetics (muscles, bones and joints) and inner ear balance (vestibular). If any one of those systems goes off kilter, it can send someone tumbling. Vestibular dysfunction - dizziness and problems with balance - comes from problems in the inner ear. Changes here can predict a future of disability. Many elderly hospitalized with a fractured hip, for example, are never able to return home again.

Dry Mouth

You wouldn't think that something besides tooth loss would forecast old age, but the lack of saliva is also quite telling. There are lots of serious conditions that list dry mouth (xerostomia) as a prime symptom such as Sjogren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease that affects glands that lubricate, including salivary glands. Although dry mouth is not a normal consequence of aging, it can forewarn that another condition is underway. Dry mouth is also a symptom of menopause, diabetes, thyroid disease, Parkinson's disease and sleep apnea, a dangerous sleep disorder that causes breathing to stop and start a few times a night.

Ear Lobe Crease

If you ask people to name the biggest single harbinger of aging, most will say wrinkles - on the forehead, neck and even hands. But the ear lobe? A diagonal crease on one or both ears (it looks like an earring has been ripped out of the ear) that begins at the bottom of the ear opening and reaches diagonally across the lobe to the tip, can signal a future of heart disease. Experts aren't sure why a crease here also correlates to thickened arteries that supply the heart, but it can show up long before a heart attack occurs.