This new study assessed the prevalence of grey hair in patients with coronary artery disease and whether it was an independent risk marker of disease. [Yuri_Arcurs/Getty Images]
This new study assessed the prevalence of grey hair in patients with coronary artery disease and whether it was an independent risk marker of disease. [Yuri_Arcurs/Getty Images]

An old proverb states that “grey hair is a sign of age, not a sign of wisdom.” It would seem that new scientific evidence would generally agree with that statement, so if you’re going grey fast or already have a large population of the white stuff on the crown, then the wise thing to do would be to pay a visit to your cardiologist. New data recently presented at the European Society of Cardiology’s Europrevent 2017 meeting in Spain—entitled “The Degree of Hair Graying in Male Gender as an Independent Risk Factor for Coronary Artery Disease, a Prospective Study”—supports the hypothesis that grey hair is linked with an increased risk of heart disease in men.  

Interestingly, many of the molecular mechanisms underlying atherosclerosis and greying hair are similar, such as impaired DNA repair, oxidative stress, inflammation, hormonal changes, and senescence of functional cells. The current study assessed the prevalence of grey hair in patients with coronary artery disease and whether it was an independent risk marker of that disorder.

“Aging is an unavoidable coronary risk factor and is associated with dermatological signs that could signal increased risk,” explained study investigator Irini Samuel, M.D., a cardiologist at Cairo University, Egypt. “More research is needed on cutaneous signs of risk that would enable us to intervene earlier in the cardiovascular disease process.”

This was a prospective, observational study that included 545 adult men who underwent multislice computed tomography (CT) coronary angiography for suspected coronary artery disease. The study subjects were divided into subgroups according to the presence or absence of coronary artery disease and the amount of grey/white hair. The amount of grey hair was scored using the hair whitening score: 1 = pure black hair, 2 = black more than white, 3 = black equals white, 4 = white more than black, and 5 = pure white. Each subjects' grade was determined by two independent observers. Moreover, data was collected on traditional cardiovascular risk factors, including hypertension, diabetes, smoking, dyslipidemia (abnormal blood lipid levels), and family history of coronary artery disease.

The investigators found that a high hair whitening score (grade 3 or more) was associated with increased risk of coronary artery disease independent of chronological age and established cardiovascular risk factors. Patients with coronary artery disease had a statistically significant higher hair whitening score and higher coronary artery calcification than those without coronary artery disease.

Additionally, using multivariate regression analysis, age, hair whitening score, hypertension, and dyslipidemia were independent predictors of the presence of atherosclerotic coronary artery disease. Only age was an independent predictor of hair whitening.

“Atherosclerosis and hair greying occur through similar biological pathways, and the incidence of both increases with age,” Dr. Samuel noted. “Our findings suggest that irrespective of chronological age, hair greying indicates biological age and could be a warning sign of increased cardiovascular risk.”

While the investigators were excited by their findings, they cautioned against overinterpretation of the results. However, Dr. Samuel advised that asymptomatic patients at high risk of coronary artery disease should have regular check-ups to avoid early cardiac events by initiating preventive therapy.

“Further research is needed, in coordination with dermatologists, to learn more about the causative genetic and possible avoidable environmental factors that determine hair whitening,” Dr. Samuel remarked. “A larger study including men and women is required to confirm the association between hair greying and cardiovascular disease in patients without other known cardiovascular risk factors.”

Dr. Samuel concluded that “if our findings are confirmed, standardization of the scoring system for evaluation of hair greying could be used as a predictor for coronary artery disease.”