Science

Fat loss accelerates ageing by deflating the cheeks and hollowing the eyes

Losing weight can leave you looking older as fat loss accelerates the ageing process by deflating the cheeks and hollowing the eyes, a new study revealed.

It is a phenomenon known as ‘Diet Face’ and was previously thought to be due to gravity taking its toll on the body in later years, causing the skin to sag.

Researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin studied the CT head scans of 19 middle aged volunteers taken on two occasions at least a decade apart. 

They found that rather than gravity sagging the skin, weight loss caused the ageing process to accelerate, deflating cheeks and making the jowls look heavy.

The team behind the study say their discovery could lead to better facelifts and explain why a host of celebrities look up to a decade older after they trim down. 

They gave the examples of Simon Cowell, Dawn French, Davina McCall, Renee Zellweger, Celine Dion, Lenny Henry and former Chancellor Nigel Lawson. 

Simon Cowell introduces the Special Award recipients British Academy Television Craft Awards in July 2020

These images of Simon Cowell were taken two years apart – in November 2018 (left) and in July 2020 (right). This study found that rather than gravity sagging the skin, weight loss caused the ageing process to accelerate, deflating cheeks and making the jowls look heavy

Dawn French pictured at the Pride of Britain awards in October 2012
This is from March 2019 and was taken on International Women's Day, showing Dawn French

Dawn French famously lost more than 7 stone. These two images were taken seven years apart – in 2012 (left) and in 2019 (right). Lead author Dr Aaron Morgan says deep facial fat loss removes support from overlying fat, sinking the eyes

WHAT IS A FACELIFT? 

A facelift, or rhytidectomy, is cosmetic surgery that lifts up and pulls back the skin to make it look tighter and smoother.

It is designed to reduce sagging skin around the neck and jowls.

In the UK, costs vary from clinic-to-clinic from a few thousand pounds for a mini facelift to £10,000 for a face and neck operation.

All independent and hospital clinics that carry out the procedure in England must be registered with the Care Quality Commission, which publishes inspection and performance reports.

Facelifts are normally performed under a general anaesthetic, but can sometimes be local.

They often involve making cuts above the hairline at the temples, as well as under the chin. 

The operation lasts around three hours, with most patients having to stay in hospital over night.

It takes around two-to-four weeks to recover from a facelift, with patients being unable to work.

Bruising is often visible for two weeks.

It could take up to six-to-nine months to see the effects.

Common side effects include a puffy face, bruising, scars and a raised hairline.

Source: NHS Choices

Facial fat reduced by more than 12 percent over the decade gap between the two CT scans – confirming the ‘volume loss’ theory of facial ageing – shedding fresh light on why patients seek rejuvenation.

Lead author Dr Aaron Morgan, of Medical College of Wisconsin, said: ‘In particular, we think deep facial fat loss removes support from the overlying fat.

‘That causes deepening of the nasolabial fold, which runs from the nose to the mouth. Meanwhile, fat loss closer to the surface makes the cheeks appear deflated.’

It means the jowls descend – and you lose definition around the jawline. Volume loss around the eyes means they may look hollow and sunken.

Explained Dr Morgan: ‘The upper face has less fat to begin with, so fat loss is more apparent.

‘In contrast, the cheek or buccal area has relatively little fat loss, so that area appears fuller as changes occur in other areas of the midface.’

The 19 participants – who averaged 46 and 57 years of age at each scan – were not undergoing facelifts or any other cosmetic procedure.

But it enabled the US team to measure changes in fat deposits in the midface – the area between the eyes and mouth – although the results varied among individuals, they showed ‘definite and measurable loss of midface fat volume.’

It decreased from about 46.50 cc at the initial scan to 40.8 cc at the follow-up – a fall of about 12.2 per cent over the course of a decade.

But the amount wasn’t the same at all levels. In the superficial compartment, just under the surface, it fell by an average of 11.3 per cent – compared to 18.4 per cent less deep below the skin.

The study, published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, shows fat is effectively the scaffolding that holds the face up.

Lenny Henry at the British Airways Milestone in the Sky event in 2013

Lenny Henry at the Resistible Rise of Arturo UI theatre first night in May 2017

These images of actor Lenny Henry were taken in 2013 (left) and in 2017 (right). Researchers say when people lose weight jowls descend – and you lose definition around the jawline

It could identify techniques to replace or reposition the midface fat in a more ‘physiologic’ way.

Dr Morgan said: ‘We think our findings will help plastic surgeons design more natural approaches to facial rejuvenation, with the aim of recreating the facial fat distribution of youth.

‘This proves there is volume depletion and not just laxity of tissues with ageing. So, volume replacement should be used in addition to surgical procedures to attempt to recreate the youthful face.’

Actor Renee Zellweger at the film premier of Cold Mountain in 2003

Renee Zellweger at a What If TV show photocall in 2019

Renee Zellweger famously gained weight to play Bridget Jones in the Bridget Jones Diary movies. Researchers previously believed ‘diet face’ from losing weight was caused by gravity over time – but the study shows it is due to changes in underlying fat scaffolding on the face

The traditional theory is sagging – the facial soft tissues simply yield to the effects of gravity over time.

The idea weakening ligaments in the midface could result in soft tissue descent still has merit, said Dr Morgan. But the evidence points in another direction.

He added: ‘Perhaps the real culprit behind facial ageing is the loss of fat – both near the surface of the skin and in deeper areas.’

Celine Dion at the Billboard Music Awards in May 2016

Celine Dion at the Grammy Awards in 2017

Taken just a year apart, these images are of Celine Dion in 2016 and in 2017 (right). The study, published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, shows fat is effectively the scaffolding that holds the face up

With two-thirds of Britons obese or overweight, dieting is vital for good health. But it can speed up wrinkles. 

Understanding the causes is paramount in plastic surgery.

Experts advise people to lose weight gradually – and eat plenty of oily fish, Omega 3 fats, fruit and vegetables as well as key vitamins.

THE HUMAN BRAIN BECOMES ‘OLD’ AT JUST 25, STUDY FINDS 

The human brain becomes ‘old’ at just 25, research suggested, a Lancaster University study found. 

Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which is found in the brain and spinal cord, changes its speed of movement in people older than their mid-20s. 

These movements are linked to breathing and heart rates, with CSF changes previously being associated with conditions such as multiple sclerosis and high blood pressure.

It is unclear if these CSF changes are associated with brain disorders that typically affect the elderly, such as dementia.

Previous research suggests the volume and weight of the brain begins to decline by around five per cent per decade when a person reaches 40 years old.

On the back of these findings, study author Professor Aneta Stefanovska added further research ‘may open up new frontiers in the understanding and diagnosis of various neurodegenerative and ageing-related diseases to improve diagnostic procedures and patient prognosis.’

The discovery came to light during the development of a new method of investigating brain function, which has revealed the stage in life when the brain starts to deteriorate. 

Previous research carried out by Imperial College London suggests brains’ grey matter, which enables the organ to function, shrinks during middle age and is related to cell death.

White matter, which enables communication between nerve clusters, also appears to decline at around 40.

This is also when the deterioration of myelin sheath occurs. Myelin sheath is a fatty substances that surrounds nerve cells and ensures proper function of the nervous system.

These changes are thought to occur due to a reduction in the hormones dopamine and serotonin.  


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