Screening for chronic illnesses like diabetes or fatty liver disease could one day be as simple as checking the temperature of your nose, eyes or cheeks.

The temperature of different parts of the face are associated with various chronic diseases, researchers reported July 2 in the journal Cell Metabolism.

Armed with an AI-driven thermal camera, doctors could one day use this simple approach to detect diseases earlier in humans, researchers said.

“Aging is a natural process,” researcher Jing-Dong Jackie Han with Peking University in Beijing, China, said in a news release. “But our tool has the potential to promote healthy aging and help people live disease-free.”

The research team had previously used facial structure to estimate how slowly or quickly a person’s body is aging, relative to their actual age.

For this effort, they analyzed facial temperatures of more than 2,800 Chinese people ages 21 to 88 to see if those readings could be used to judge their health.

Researchers fed the people’s data into an AI program, which identified key facial regions where temperatures were significantly related to age and health.

Metabolic disorders like diabetes and fatty liver disease cause higher eye area temperatures relative to healthy people, results show.

Likewise, high blood pressure causes elevated cheek temperatures, researchers said.

Researchers suspect this increase in temperature around the eyes and cheeks is caused by inflammation linked to chronic disease.

That inflammation causes people’s temperatures to rise in specific facial areas, creating a “thermal clock” that can be used to detect illness.

“The thermal clock is so strongly associated with metabolic diseases that previous facial imaging models were not able to predict these conditions,” Han said.

As a next step, the researchers performed an experiment to see if a healthy habit could influence a person’s thermal clock.

They had 23 participants jump rope at least 800 times daily for two weeks. To their surprise, researchers found that these folks reduced their thermal age by five years through that short burst of exercise.

The team next plans to see if thermal facial imaging can be used to diagnose other illnesses like sleeping disorders or heart problems.

“We hope to apply thermal facial imaging in clinical settings, as it holds significant potential for early disease diagnosis and intervention,” Han said.

The findings were published July 2.

More information

The Cleveland Clinic has more about body temperature.

SOURCE: Cell Press, news release, July 2, 2024