A new study presented at the 69th Annual Conference of the Cardiological Society of India suggests there could be a link between coronary artery disease and premature graying and baldness in young men. The researchers suggest that both baldness and greying are stronger risk predictors of heart disease than obesity.

The relatively small study matched 790 men with coronary artery disease under the age of 40, against a control of 1,270 healthy men. The results found that the men with heart disease had higher rates of both baldness (50 percent versus 30 percent) and premature graying (49 percent versus 27 percent) when compared to the control group.

Strikingly, after adjusting for age and other risk factors, the study found that male-pattern baldness was associated with a 5.6 times greater risk of coronary artery disease, while premature graying had a 5.3 times greater risk. This places them higher than a variety of other risk factors, including diabetes, family history, and even obesity, which was only associated with a 4.1 times greater risk.

"Men with premature graying and androgenic alopecia should receive extra monitoring for coronary artery disease and advice on lifestyle changes such as healthy diet, exercise, and stress management," says lead author on the study Dhammdeep Humane. "Our study found associations but a causal relationship needs to be established before statins can be recommended for men with baldness or premature greying."

The limitations of a study like this need to be noted. As Humane says, these associational correlations don't really mean anything without an understanding of possible causal connections.

Interestingly, this isn't the first study to examine these particular associations. There have been several conflicting reports associating baldness with coronary artery disease. While some studies have found early-onset baldness to be a viable marker for increased risk of coronary artery disease, this has never been widely confirmed and no specific mechanism explaining a possible connection has ever been identified.

There has been less targeted research looking at the connection between premature hair graying and coronary artery disease, but what few studies we have are not entirely positive. Two separate, but small, studies concluded that premature hair graying can be a useful risk marker for coronary artery disease, especially in smokers.

While these kinds of risk associations generated from small observational studies should be taken with a grain of salt, they can still prove valuable in helping uncover early warning signs for many diseases. And especially so when trying to identify coronary artery disease in younger people, where traditional risk factors are often not present.

"Baldness and premature greying should be considered risk factors for coronary artery disease," suggests principal investigator of the recent study, Kamal Sharma. "These factors may indicate biological, rather than chronological, age which may be important in determining total cardiovascular risk. Currently physicians use common sense to estimate biological age but a validated scale is needed."

The research was presented at the recent 69th Annual Conference of the Cardiological Society of India.