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Most people associate gray hair with the aging process. However, new research indicates that gray hair might mean more than the fact that one is aging. Research made public at the recent EuroPrevent 2017 event links the presence of gray hair to a heightened risk of heart disease in men. This is not to say that every man who has gray hair is at risk of a heart attack. Yet it seems as though the graying of hair and atherosclerosis have similar mechanisms like oxidative stress, senescence of functional cells, DNA repair, hormonal changes and inflammation. Additional research is necessary to determine the cutaneous signs of risk that could help medical professionals take preventive action early on in the cardiovascular disease process.

About the Study

The study analyzed the prevalence of gray hair in men who have coronary artery disease. The researchers also assessed whether gray hair is an independent risk marker for coronary artery disease. The study was prospective and observational in nature. It included 545 adult men who were divided into subgroups based on the absence or presence of coronary artery disease and the extent of gray/white hair. The men involved in the study underwent multi-slice computed tomography (CT) coronary angiography for suspected coronary artery disease.

The extent of the study participants' gray/white hair was quantified with a “hair whitening” score. Pure black hair was represented by the number one. More black than white hair was represented by the number two. An equal amount of black and white hair was represented by the number three. The number four was assigned to subjects with more gray hair than black. A full head of gray/white hair was represented by the number five. Two neutral observers were relied upon to grade each patient's hair based on this scale. The researchers collected data pertaining to cardiovascular risk factors ranging from smoking to hypertension, family history of coronary artery disease, dyslipidaemia and diabetes.

Study Results

The research group determined that an elevated hair graying score of three or more is linked to a higher risk for coronary artery disease. This association existed independent of chronological age as well as established cardiovascular risk factors. Study participants with coronary artery disease had a higher hair graying score and higher coronary artery calcification than patients who do not have coronary artery disease. Multivariate regression analysis showed that hair graying score, age, dyslipidaemia and hypertension were solid independent predictors of the existence of atherosclerotic coronary artery disease. Patient age was the sole independent predictor of hair graying. It is understood that hair graying and atherosclerosis occur via similar biological pathways. The incidence of each heightens across the aging process. The study's findings suggest that heir graying is a sign of biological age and is a warning sign of heightened cardiovascular risk irrespective of one's chronological age.

Asymptomatic patients who are at an elevated risk for coronary artery disease should meet with their doctor for frequent check-ups. Preventive therapy could help such patients avoid cardiac events early in life. Additional research in coordination with dermatologists is necessary to glean more information about the causative genetic and environmental variables that determine hair graying. A much larger study including women will be necessary to verify the link between graying hair and cardiovascular disease in individuals without other known heart health risk factors. Yet if the study's findings are confirmed, the hair greying scoring system detailed above could serve as a reliable predictor of coronary artery disease. For antidotes to graying hair, see these products
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European Society of Cardiology’s Europrevent 2017

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Author's Bio: 

Taryn DeCicco ND, LAc, LDN of Apple A Day Clinic in Arlington Heights, IL has been practicing Naturopathy and Acupuncture, specializing in acne, skin, and digestive disorders for over 16 years.