Male pattern baldness affects around 30 to 40 percent of adult men in early and middle age, and nearly 80 percent of all men by the time they reach 80 years old. While going bald can take a toll on a man’s confidence and sense of attractiveness (though Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson might disagree), until recently it wasn't associated with much beyond the need for a good winter hat.
In the past few years, however, researchers have begun to uncover a link between male pattern baldness and coronary heart disease (CHD). CHD is the result of progressive coronary artery disease (CAD), in which plaque builds up in the heart’s arteries, slowing blood flow.
Unfortunately, CHD is one side effect of male pattern baldness that even the strongest Rogaine won’t fix.
After synthesizing the findings of six studies of men ages 55 to 60 in the U.S. and Europe, Japanese researchers concluded that baldness may be associated with an increased risk of CHD. And like cardiovascular risk itself, male pattern baldness is in some measure caused by your genes.
“My grandfathers had moderate [to] severe baldness and they died of coronary heart disease. I wondered if some link exists between baldness and CHD,” said study author Tomohide Yamada, MD, of the department of diabetes and metabolic disease at the University of Tokyo.
But while this may be bad news for some men, there is a bit of a silver lining. Depending on just how you go bald, your risk profile varies.
Mapping Male Pattern Baldness
The researchers identified four different types of balding: severe vertex balding, moderate vertex balding, mild vertex balding, and frontal balding. Vertex balding refers to the top, or crown, of the head, and severe vertex balding is the type most associated with an increased risk of CHD.
“In this study, vertex baldness was significantly associated with an increased risk of CHD among younger men as well as among all participants, and the association was dependent on the severity of baldness,” Yamada said. While these findings certainly suggest an association, further study is needed to determine the exact relationship between lost hair and clogged arteries.
Scientists hypothesize that the link between balding and CHD may be caused by insulin resistance, which increases the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease and appears slightly more often in bald men than in their peers. Previous studies have pointed to an association between male pattern baldness, metabolic syndrome, and hypertension.
What This Means for You, Now
Whether you are just beginning to see thinning hair or are well on your way to becoming a cue ball, there are some things you can do to remain informed about the potential onset of CHD.
“Cardiovascular risk factors probably should be reviewed carefully in men with vertex baldness, especially younger men, and they probably should be encouraged to improve their cardiovascular risk profile,” Yamada said.
However, just because you are balding, bald, or living with relatives who are bald doesn’t necessarily mean you are at risk for CHD, which is where these findings become a bit like looking into the Magic 8 Ball of heart health. At the very least, male pattern baldness means you should ask your doctor at your next visit about any other heart disease risk factors you may have.
The best thing you can do for your heart is to lead a healthy lifestyle that reduces your risk of developing obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
“Adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle that includes a low fat diet, exercise, and less stress so that coronary risk factors such as age, hypertension, dyslipidemia (high cholesterol), and smoking might [be avoided],” Yamada added.