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Baldness and early greying a sign of heart disease?

Premature male pattern baldness and greying of the hair may be more prominent risk factors for heart disease than obesity, claims a recent study conducted in India.

The study, conducted by the European Society of Cardiology, took place in Kolkata. It involved 790 men aged less than 40 years with coronary artery disease and 1,270 age-matched healthy men who acted as a control group.

It associates premature baldness and greying with a fivefold increase in heart disease in men under the age of 40. This comes as a surprise to many cardiologists as one of the most common causative factors of heart disease — obesity — was found to only cause a four fold increase. However, hair loss is associated with high levels of testosterone which is an established risk for cardiovascular disease and many researchers have previously linked baldness to an elevated CVD risk. Similar studies in Indians have used ear hair as a marker. These results may, therefore have been over-hyped.

The researchers found that young men suffering from coronary artery disease had a higher prevalence of premature greying (50% versus 30%) and male-pattern baldness (49% versus 27%) compared to healthy controls.

Whilst the study shows a correlation, this does not necessitate causation. The finding warrants further research into potential biochemical links between male pattern baldness and greying with heart disease.

Heart disease now accounts for 28.1 percent of all deaths within India, making it the country’s biggest killer. This means research into potential risk factors is vital to India’s health system. Non-communicable diseases primarily related to lifestyle choices have become the dominant cause of death the world over. Research into lifestyle changes that may reduce the risks will be vital to easing the burden on healthcare systems.

Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation notes the study has limitations. “Identifying men with premature hair loss and greying may help identify those with an increased risk of developing heart disease,” he says. “However, this isn’t something that people can change, whereas you can modify your lifestyle and risk factors such as high cholesterol and blood pressure”.

Dr Kamal Sharma, the principal investigator on the study has indicated a possible association between baldness and biological aging, theorising “The possible reason could be the process of biological ageing, which may be faster in certain patients and may be reflected in hair changes.” It is therefore possible that DNA damage associated with aging, prematurely manifesting as greying and baldness is more closely linked to developing heart disease than obesity.

While baldness and greying are not factors a person may change through lifestyle choices, it would be useful to be able to note all possible risk factors in order to more accurately assess a person’s chances of being affected by a heart condition. With an improvement in the knowledge of disposition, databases may be constructed allowing better assessment of those at risk, allowing preventative measures to be taken before the condition develops.

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