Baldness, Another Risk Factor For Heart Disease?


BFP Magazine



Cardio-vascular Health

Baldness, Heart Disease

Baldness, Another Risk Factor For Heart Disease?

By Dr. W. Gifford Jones

July 9, 2000

What does a man think when the mirror reveals a patch of baldness? Unless he's Telly Savalas or Yul Brynner, few situations test his vanity more than that reflection. Now a finding may depress his psyche even further. A Harvard study suggests baldness is a symptom of heart disease.

For centuries bald men have been the butt of jokes. An old Czech proverb claimed, "a good man grows gray, but a rascal grows bald." A Chinese proverb stated, "Of ten bald men nine are deceitful, and the tenth is stupid."

According to the Roman historian Suetonius, Julius Caesar believed a bald head was detrimental to the image of imperial power. So he combed his hair to hide the bald spot.

The ancient Egyptians went a step further. They advocated the use of equal parts of fat from a lion, a crocodile and a hippopotamus to treat baldness.

Since that time men have rubbed an incredible number of potions on their scalps. And most have had no effect.

Dr. JoAnn Manson is an endocrinologist at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital. She headed a research team that recently reported its findings in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The study included 19,112 physicians aged 40 to 84 years who were initially free of coronary heart disease (CHD). They were then followed for 11 years to determine whether there was a relationship between baldness and CHD. For instance, how many bald men had suffered from angina, a heart attack or had undergone bypass surgery.

Dr. Manson reports that what happens to men depends on their degree of baldness. Men who are frontally bald by age 45 have a lifelong risk of heart disease that is 9 percent higher than those with a full head of hair.

For men with mild baldness on the top of their heads the risk is 23 percent higher. Moderate hair loss increases the risk to 32 percent. And for severe loss of hair there's a 36 percent greater chance of coronary heart disease.

Dr Manson's survey noted that a subgroup of bald men under 60 years of age faced the greatest risk. These were men with severe baldness on the top of the head who also suffered from hypertension, high blood cholesterol along with a family history of myocardial infarction. Ô 0*0*0* Several other epidemiological studies bring similar bad news to the Yul Brynners of this world.

For instance, the large Framingham Heart Study found a positive association between male pattern baldness (MPB) and coronary disease.

The First National Health and Nutrition Examination also showed that severe baldness was linked to increased coronary deaths in men under 55 years of age. But there was no increase in CHD deaths in men over this age.

One European study revealed that baldness and real estate have one thing in common. Real estate experts say the three secrets for profit is location, location, location. The Copenhagen City Heart Study revealed location can also be a determining factor for bald men.

This survey showed that, regardless of age, frontal baldness increased the risk of myocardial infarction significantly.

But why should bald men show a increased risk of CHD? Dr. Manson suggests it may be due to elevated androgen levels. Men with severe baldness have a greater number of androgen receptors in the scalp and higher levels of testosterone. This may contribute to an increased risk of atherosclerosis and blood clots.

Several years ago Dr. Thomas Cash, Professor of Psychology at the University of Norfolk reported his findings on baldness. He discovered that some balding men likened their plight to the loss of a friend. Others felt baldness had a pronounced negative effect on their self©image.

One 27 year old male confessed, "Due to hair loss I have begun to feel unattractive to females. Before, I was confident when being introduced to a woman. Now I'm hesitant or just shy away."

Since I have great empathy for bald men I hate to add to their problems. But being aware of the association between baldness and heart disease could be helpful to them. If they also suffer from high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol, treating these problems may prevent cardiovascular problems later in life.

Bald men should remember this study is just an "association" and not a causation. Associations can be very misleading. Years ago there were 300 associations linking diet, bad weather, fatigue etc to tuberculosis. Then researchers discovered the true cause, the tubercle bacillus, and all these associations flew out the window.

One statistician cautioned me years ago about falling into "the association trap". He wrote "Dr. Gifford©Jones, remember the sun rises every morning and you get up in the morning. And this association means nothing."


W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of The Harvard Medical School. He's been a ship's surgeon, hotel physician and family doctor and later trained in surgery at McGill in Montreal, University of Rochester N.Y. and Harvard. His medical column is published by 60 Canadian newspapers and several in the U.S. He is the author of seven books. Dr. Walker has a medical practice in Toronto. His Web site is: www.mydoctor.ca/gifford-jones. He can be reached at bfp@bogotafreeplanet.com

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