Men with that salt-and-pepper hair have a certain charm to them, don’t they? As easy on the eyes grays are, a new study is about to change your mind about them: Research from the European Society of Cardiology, presented at EuroPrevent 2017 by Dr. Irini Samuel, a cardiologist at Cairo University, Egypt, links gray hair with an increased risk of heart disease in men.
Atherosclerosis, a disease in which plaque builds up inside the arteries, is caused by high blood pressure, smoking, or high cholesterol. As atherosclerosis has some of the same mechanisms as hair graying, such as impaired DNA repair, oxidative stress, inflammation, hormonal changes, and weakening of functional cells, the research assessed the prevalence of gray hair in patients with the disease to determine whether it was an independent risk marker.
A “hair whitening score” was given to each of the 545 adult men who participated in the prospective, observational study. Men with pure black hair were awarded a score of 1; men with more black hair than white hair were awarded a 2; men with equal amounts of black and white hair were awarded a 3; men with more white hair than black hair were awarded a 4; and men with pure white hair were awarded a 5. According to the researchers, a hair whitening score of 3 or higher was associated with increased risk of coronary artery disease, independent of chronological age and established cardiovascular risk factors.
Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, MD, MS, attending physician in Internal Medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, believes more studies are necessary to investigate the relationship between heart health and graying of the hair. “Individuals with an abundance of gray should not go into immediate panic mode based on the study findings,” she says. “When it comes to heart health, incorporation of routine exercise and maintenance of a well-balanced diet is crucial and can contribute to improved health outcomes. Gray haired and non-gray haired individuals alike should adhere to healthy lifestyle choices promoting heart health.” (Here are 30 heart health tips, straight from cardiologists.)
But this isn’t the first time gray hair has been found to be a warning sign. “There are several studies dating from the 1990s that have shown a link between gray hair and cardiovascular disease markers such as heart attacks and arterial thickness,” says Allison Larson, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Boston Medical Center. “From a dermatological perspective, hair turns gray because there are fewer pigment-producing cells in the hair follicle. However, other factors can be related to hair graying, such as smoking and obesity, both of which are also known to be associated with heart disease. The reason for the association with heart disease is not fully understood. In the meantime, gray-haired people should have regular check-ups with a primary care provider, maintain a healthy weight with diet and exercise, and avoid smoking.”
These are the sneaky reasons your hair is going gray too soon.