BEING bald could be a sign that men are more likely to suffer from heart disease, a study suggests.
An analysis by researchers in Japan found that male pattern baldness could show that men are significantly more likely to develop coronary heart disease (CHD).
But the increased risk was limited to men who went bald on the top of their head. A receding hairline was not linked to a greater likelihood of developing CHD.
Experts said balding men should not panic because of the findings but should take action to combat other risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking and being overweight.
More than 8,000 deaths a year in Scotland are linked to CHD, with more than 270,000 people living with the condition.
For the latest study, published in the British Medical Journal Open (BMJ Open), the team from University of Tokyo, scoured research databases to find studies which included relevant information about hair loss and heart disease. They then analysed six studies, published between 1993 and 2008, which involved almost 40,000 men.
The analysis found that men who had lost most of their hair were a third (32 per cent) more likely to develop coronary artery disease than men with a full head of hair.
When the researchers focused on men under the age of 55-60, they found a similar pattern with bald or extensively balding men 44 per cent more likely to develop coronary artery disease.
In three of the studies, which compared the heart health of men who were bald or balding with those who were not, the same situation continued.
They showed that balding men were 70 per cent more likely to have heart disease, with the effect even stronger in younger age groups.
Three of the studies also assessed the degree of baldness experienced by the men, finding that the risk of heart disease depended on the severity of the baldness. However, this effect was limited to men who were bald on the top or crown of the head – known as the “vertex”.
The researchers found that extensive baldness on the vertex increased the risk of heart disease by 36 per cent, while mild vertex baldness increased the risk by 18 per cent. However, a receding hairline made very little difference to the risk, the researchers found. The study also looked at the severity of baldness using a special grading system, finding that the extent of hair loss was also linked to heart disease risk.
Men who had suffered hair loss at both the front of the head and the crown were 69 per cent more likely to have coronary artery disease than men with a full head of hair. Those with just crown-top baldness had a 52 per cent increased risk, while frontal baldness was linked to a 22 per cent higher risk.
Possible explanations for the link include the possibility that baldness may be a sign of insulin resistance, which is a precursor to diabetes which is associated with a higher chance of heart problems.
Baldness may also indicate a chronic inflammation or increased sensitivity to the hormone testosterone, which are also linked to cardiovascular disease.
The researchers concluded: “Cardiovascular risk factors should be reviewed carefully in men with vertex baldness, especially younger men.”
They said that these patients should “probably be encouraged to improve their cardiovascular risk profile”.
Doireann Maddock, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Although these findings are interesting, men who have lost their hair should not be alarmed.”