Several studies have hinted that baldness is more than an embarrassment; it can be a visible warning of increased risk for heart disease. The largest study conducted thus far confirmed that notion.
The investigation, headed by JoAnne E. Manson of Harvard Medical School's Brigham and Women's Hospital, looked at participants in the Physicians' Health Study, a long-term project that examined the risks for heart disease in 22,000 male physicians. Eleven years into the project, the doctors, who were then between the ages of 51 and 95, indicated which of five pictures most closely approximated their hair pattern when they were 45. They correlated the hair patterns with heart problems that had arisen in 19,112 subjects who had no cardiovascular problems at the start of the study. The researchers looked at the connection between hair loss and coronary events, namely non-fatal heart attacks, angina or treatment for heart disease (bypass surgery or angioplasty).
The results showed that regardless of age, men with frontal baldness alone were only slightly more likely (9%) to face heart problems than were men who retained all their hair. But those with mild thinning at the crown had a 23% higher risk of heart disease, and those with moderate or severe balding at the crown had more than a 30% higher risk.
Worst off were severely bald men with high cholesterol levels or high blood pressure. Those with elevated cholesterol were almost three times more likely to have heart disease than were men with high cholesterol and hair on their crown. Bald subjects with raised blood pressure faced almost twice the risk encountered by their counterparts with lusher hair.
Researchers can only speculate about why bald men would be more susceptible to heart disease. Genetic inheritance could be at fault, or high levels of male hormones (androgens) or increased sensitivity to them could be the common denominator. Androgens play a part in male-pattern baldness and appear to contribute to atherosclerosis and increased blood clotting, both of which promote heart disease.