You’re no doubt referring to results of a study from India showing that men under 40 who were prematurely grey or going bald were at more than 5 times greater risk of heart disease than other men. The researchers reported that balding and premature greying are associated with greater risk than other well-established factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, family history of heart disease, smoking, belly fat and a high body mass index (BMI).
Not surprisingly, experts elsewhere were skeptical of the findings. The study included only Indian men younger than 40, so we would need research involving a lot more men of different ethnicities elsewhere in the world to test the reported association. The authors said they undertook the study because the incidence of coronary artery disease in young men has been increasing in India and can’t be explained by known risk factors. In presenting the findings at a cardiology conference, one of the researchers maintained that premature balding and greying correlate well with vascular age irrespective of chronological age.
The study included 790 men under 40 with coronary artery disease and a control group of 1,270 age-matched healthy men. All had a medical history taken in addition to a series of tests, including an electrocardiogram, echocardiography, blood work and a coronary angiogram. The researchers also scored all the men’s male-pattern baldness after analyzing 24 different views of each participant’s scalp. Those with all their hair were given a score of zero; those with mild thinning were scored as one; two indicated moderate baldness; and three was severe baldness. The color of the men’s hair was also scored with pure black rated one; more black than white, two; equal amounts of black and white, three; more white than black, four; and pure white, five.
All told, the men with coronary artery disease were more likely than their heart healthy peers to have greyed prematurely (50 percent versus 30 percent) and more likely to have male pattern baldness (49 percent versus 27 percent). After adjusting for age and other cardiovascular risk factors, the team determined that male-pattern baldness was associated with a 5.6 times greater risk of coronary artery disease, and premature greying with a 5.3 percent greater risk. Obesity presented a fourfold risk.
These findings do not prove cause and effect, only an association between premature greying and balding and the incidence of heart disease. Kamal Sharma, associate professor of cardiology at the U.N. Mehta Institute of Cardiology and Research Center in Ahmedabad, India, suggested that baldness and premature greying might indicate biological – rather than chronological – age, which he said may be important in determining total cardiovascular risk.
Men can’t do much about greying or thinning hair, but if you’re concerned about heart disease, there’s a lot you can do to lower your risk.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Kamal Sharma et al, “Male-pattern baldness and premature graying associated with risk of early heart disease: Both were stronger risk factors than obesity.” European Society of Cardiology, November 30, 2017.