Study debunks heart attack-male baldness link
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A new study of more than 5,000 men calls into question the idea that baldness can signal a greater risk of heart disease.
Dr. Eyal Shahar of the University of Arizona in Tucson and colleagues found little difference in the heart attack risk between men with full heads of hair and their balding peers. Hair loss also wasn't related to thickening of the lining of the carotid arteries, the main vessels that supply blood to the brain. An increase in the lining of these arteries, known as carotid intimal-medial thickness, is a warning sign of atherosclerosis.
Some have suggested that baldness in men is related to increased levels of the hormone androgen, and that this hormone may also play a role in the development of coronary atherosclerosis, or "hardening of the arteries" within the heart, Shahar and his team note in their report, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
One previous study found that vertex baldness, or loss of hair at the top of the head, was strongly linked to heart attack risk; in fact, the balder men were on top, the greater was their risk.
To further investigate the issue, the researchers looked at 5,056 men 52 to 75 years old, 767 of whom had suffered a heart attack previously. About one third had little or no hair loss, while 13 percent had frontal baldness only, and 54 percent had vertex baldness.
Men going bald at the front of their heads were 28 percent more likely to have had a heart attack, while mild vertex baldness was tied to a 2 percent greater risk of heart attack,
However, the relationship didn't get stronger with baldness severity; men with moderate vertex baldness were 40 percent more likely to have had a heart attack, while risk was increased by 18 percent for men with severe vertex baldness.
There was no relationship between any type of baldness and carotid intimal-medial thickness.
If the types of baldness seen in the current study are indeed due to high androgen levels, Shahar and his colleagues note, it's likely that the hormone does not increase heart attack or atherosclerosis risk.
They conclude: "The results of this study suggest that male pattern baldness is not a surrogate measure of an important risk factor" for heart attacks or for atherosclerosis without symptoms.
SOURCE: American Journal of Epidemiology, May 15, 2008.