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Male baldness is linked to heart disease

Updated on August 7, 2013

Less hair means more heart problems, says medical community

Head of an old Roman, ca. 60 BC. (Image in the public domain)
Head of an old Roman, ca. 60 BC. (Image in the public domain)

Each morning millions of men go through a discouraging routine of examining their hair and scalp for signs of hair loss. The tangle of hair they discover on their brushes and in the sink is more than an irritating sign of potential baldness it may also signal impeding heart disease.

Recent scientific studies conclude that men with hair loss — particularly on top of their heads — are at greater risk of developing heart disease than guys with a full head of hair. This connection was first reported in a 2000 study conducted by the Harvard Medical School.

In a 2013 study, researchers at University of Tokyo expanded on the work at Harvard and examined six studies of male pattern baldness and their incidents of coronary heart disease (CHD). These studies involving 37,000 men were conducted between 1993 and 2008.

The study linked men with vortex baldness (or balding on the top of the head) to an increased risk of CHD, according to the University of Tokyo study published in BMJ Open, an online medical journal.

Men with balding on the top and front of the head are 69% more likely to have heart disease.

Image in public domain
Image in public domain

Guys with vertex and frontal balding were 69% more likely to have heart disease than men with a full head of hair. Those with balding only on the top had a 52% higher chance.

Of those with vertex balding, those with extensive balding on the top of their scalp had a 48% higher risk of coronary heart disease. Moderate vertex balding went up by 36% and mild went up to 18%.

Men with a receding hairline had no additional risks.

The Harvard study examined additional factors. It concluded that vertex balding combined with high blood pressure almost doubled the CHD risk. While men with vertex baldness and high cholesterol are nearly three times at the risk of heart disease, compared to those with high cholesterol and no hair loss.

“Vertex baldness is more closely associated with hardening of the arteries than with frontal baldness,” says the University of Tokyo study. "Thus, cardiovascular risk factors should be reviewed carefully in men with vertex baldness, especially younger men."

What causes baldness?

If you’re losing your hair you can blame your genes, hormones and age.

Typically, about a third of all men begin to lose their hair by the age of 45. Half of all men suffer substantial hair loss by the age of 50. And by their 65th birthday nearly all guys have some hair loss.

Balding men inherit hair follicle genes that are overly sensitive to the male hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT). This hormone produced by testosterone weakens the hair follicles resulting in finer, shorter hair. Eventually, weakened follicles cause hair growth to stop.

Since testosterone is involved in thinning hair and baldness, many bald men believe the myth that going bald is a sign of virility. However, balding men don’t have more testosterone than guys with a full head of hair. Their hair follicles are simply more sensitive to the hormones.

"There's a physical sign... linked to a problem inside"

The male hormone testosterone acts directly on many tissues in the body. Testosterone produces dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and this hormone is known to act on hair follicles. A higher amount of DHT produces hair on the chest, but it stops or deteriorates hair growth on the scalp.

Dr. Lori Mosca, a cardiologist, discussed the University of Tokyo study on CBS This Morning and noted that DHT may also damage receptors in the heart.

“The damage that testosterone can do to the hair follicles and also to blood vessels may be an underlying link,” Dr. Mosca said.

“I like this study. It has a message for us because it tells us there’s a physical sign that we should pay attention to that might be linked to a problem inside. Men should make sure they are living a heart healthy lifestyle,” Dr. Mosca concluded.

Changing your lifestyle is the most effective way of reducing the risk of heart disease. These changes include:

  • lose weight if you're overweight.
  • quit smoking if you're a smoker.
  • increase your amount of exercise and physical activity.

Whose Bald Head Is It Anyway?

Other risk signs: ear creases and deposits on the eyelid

Another study points to two other visible factors, besides baldness, that are associated with an increased risk of heart disease — earlobe creases and fatty deposits around the eyelid.

Dr. Anne Tybjaerg-Hansen, the study’s senior author and professor of clinical biochemistry at the University of Copenhagen, said everyone should be aware of these signs.

“Checking these visible aging signs should be a routine part of every doctor’s physical examination,” Dr. Hansen said, according to the American Heart Association.

Researchers in this study analyzed 10,885 participants 40 years and older (55% men and 45% women). They noted four visual cues: receding hairlines at the temples, vortex baldness, earlobe creases and yellow fatty deposits around the eyelid. They found individuals with three of the four factors had a 57% increased risk for heart attack and a 39% increased risk for heart disease than normal.

Fatty eyelid deposits were the rarest aging sign, but the study says they are the strongest single predictor of heart disease.

Baldness linked to prostrate cancer, says another study

An Australia study of 1,446 men found that men with vertex baldness were 1½ times more likely to have prostate cancer than those without these bald spots on top of their heads.

The study found no link between a receding hairline and prostate cancer, according to Harvard Health Publications’ website, a division of Harvard University's Medical School.


Looking for more? Check...

The Hair Loss Myth Buster: It examines such topics as: "Can standing on your head end hair loss?" This website is operated by NHS, England's Department of Health.

Heart Attack Risk Assessment: Scroll down to the middle of this American Heart Association webpage and press the button on the left labeled: “Learn Your Risk.” You’ll be asked a few questions about your current lifestyle and health, including your latest glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure readings. When you finish they’ll graphically display your current heart disease risks and how to improve upon them, if necessary. –TDowling


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