Image above from NJ.com
A study presented at the EuroPrevent 2017 conference of the European Society of Cardiology suggests a link between how much a man grays or whitens when he ages and plaque buildup within the coronary arteries, the main arteries that supply the heart muscle.
Researchers looked at 545 men and evaluated them by the degree of hair whitening where a 1 was given to those with all black hair, up to a 3 with equal amounts of black and gray/white hair, to a 5 where they had all gray/white hair. Computed tomography coronary angiography was used to evaluate the amount of atherosclerosis (plaque build up) in the coronary artieres.
Those men who scored 3 or more appeared to have higher risk of plaque build up. These findings were independent of cardiac risk factors such as age, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and family history of heart disease.
According to lead author in this study, Dr. Irini Samuel, a cardiologist at Cairo University in Egypt stated,
“Atherosclerosis and hair graying occur through similar biological pathways and the incidence of both increases with age. Our findings suggest that, irrespective of chronological age, hair graying indicates biological age and could be a warning sign of increased cardiovascular risk.
More research is needed on cutaneous signs of risk that would enable us to intervene earlier in the cardiovascular disease process.”
She continued, “If our findings are confirmed, standardization of the scoring system for evaluation of hair graying could be used as a predictor for coronary artery disease.”
Why does our hair turn gray with age?
Our hair color is determined by our melanin production, a combination of pigments (eumelanin and pheomelanin) that can vary, with less eumelanin giving rise to blond hair, more giving rise to brunette hair and pheomelanin responsible for the red, auburn hues.
Melanocytes inject their pigment into the keratin cells that produce hair. As we age these may slow down. Another cause of “going gray” is hydrogen peroxide builds up in the hair follicle, causing oxidative stress, which in turn prevents rich colors from being displayed. The lack of pigment will cause hair to appear white.
Image from MadSci Network
What can cause premature graying?
Many of us begin to see gray hair in our 30’s. Some in our 20’s. Different ethnicities gray at different ages. If one is gray by age 20 that would be considered premature.
We’ve heard about stress, hormones, and nutritional deficiencies being linked to loss of hair color, but studies have not been able to prove this definitively.
Researchers are still trying to determine why one would gray faster and what significance it has on our health.
Now one might say “If everyone grays than everyone is at risk for heart disease”. Heart disease is common and the number one killer and graying is almost ubiquitous in the older population. But this study starts to make one wonder if the amount, accelerating of….even the pattern of graying are significant, then this could clue us in on who is at risk for early, preventable, heart disease.
How can we prevent heart disease?
Firstly, we must know our risk factors. These include:
Family history of heart disease
Personal history of heart disease
High Blood Pressure
Males over 40
Females who are post menopausal
and even short stature has been cited as a potential risk factor.
As you can see, many of us can be at risk for heart disease.
Therefore secondly, we should be evaluated with an EKG, echocardiogram and any other exams our medical provider and/or cardiologist deem necessary.
Thirdly, reduce your risk by the following:
Maintain a normal blood pressure
Maintain normal blood sugar
Maintain normal cholesterol and lipid levels
Maintain a balanced diet, rich in potassium-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables
Maintain a healthy weight.