he question: It turns out that going bald can harm a lot more than just your ego. Previous studies have demonstrated a link between baldness and an increased risk of heart disease, but this time around, researchers wanted to test if merely looking old correlated with a higher risk of cardiovascular problems. Specifically, they analyzed thousands of subjects for six tell-tale signs of aging: Receding hairlines, bald heads, creases near the ear lobes, fatty deposits near the eyes, gray hair, and face wrinkles.
How it was tested: The research, presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions in Los Angeles by biochemist Dr. Anne Tybjaerg-Hansen of the University of Denmark, analyzed data on 11,000 people collected over a 35-year period. At the start of the study all participants were age 40 or older.
The outcome: Researchers found that two of the factors — gray hair and wrinkles — didn't have any discernible connection to heart disease. However, people who had "at least three of the other four aging traits had a 57 percent increased risk of heart attack and a 39 percent increased risk for heart disease," says Eryn Brown at the Los Angeles Times, even when other risk factors were accounted for. In other words: If you have some three-part combination of a receding hairline, bald head, creases near the ears, or puffy fat deposits near the eye, it may mean bad news for your heart.
The theory: Hair loss can be linked with lower testosterone levels in the bloodstream, which can affect both men and women. Researchers think that hormone levels, which change as we age, may play a role in heart disease, but at this point it's still speculation.
What the experts say: "Looking old for your age marks poor cardiovascular health," says study leader Tybjaerg-Hansen. For medical professionals, "checking these visible aging signs should be a routine part of every doctor's physical examination," she says. It's true, says Dr. Kathy Magliato, a heart surgeon at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. "We're so rushed to put on a blood pressure cuff or put a stethoscope on the chest" that visible signs of risk are often missed.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why is American internet so slow?
- What the collapse of the Ming Dynasty can tell us about American decline
- 7 ways to be the most interesting person in any room
- 10 things you need to know today: March 10, 2014
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Colorado’s new ‘drive high, get a DUI’ commercials are actually pretty clever
- Why is it so expensive to build a bridge in America?
- 10 classic Sesame Street moments we wouldn't show today's kids
- 22 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Who are the real gay marriage bigots?
Subscribe to the Week