Psst. … Is your hair – or lack of it – trying to tell you something?
Two new reports link male pattern baldness – not that celebrity-inspired shaved noggin – with higher odds for heart disease and prostate cancer. Those aren’t the only hairdo and health connections sprouting in the news. Blondes, redheads and young silver foxes: You’re on the list, too, but don’t wig out just yet!
We think these offbeat signals, like higher testosterone levels – which can boost risk for a shiny dome and clogged arteries – give medical science new ways to study hidden health hazards. In the future, that could translate into new tests and treatments.
What’s in it for you, right now? Motivation to do the right thing every time you look in the mirror, so you can live life to the youngest. Here’s our take on what you should know and do.
Hairy health signal No. 1: Baldness and prostate cancer risk
Early baldness can boost odds for early prostate cancer in black men, says a new University of Pennsylvania report. Any baldness raised risk, but going hairless in front doubled it. Baldness before age 60 also was connected with more advanced cancers in younger men. The link? DHT, a type of testosterone.
What to do: Guys, get the prostate checks you need. Black men have a 50 percent to 60 percent higher risk for prostate cancer. All men should talk with their docs about the pros and cons of the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test.
Signal No. 2: Baldness and your heart
Dome dudes, another reminder: Stay on top of your heart health, too. A report, this one from Japan, says losing hair increases heart disease risk by as much as 48 percent. This time, “vertex” balding – that’s hair loss on top – proved riskiest. Why? DHT again; it shuts down hair follicles and is linked with higher blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels, along with hardening of the arteries from fatty deposits in artery walls. Baldness also may be a sign of insulin resistance or chronic inflammation that prevents hair growth and messes up artery health.
What to do: Eat right, exercise, stay up to date on cholesterol and blood pressure checks, and take the cholesterol- and blood-pressure-lowering meds recommended by your doc. Guys with high LDL cholesterol, high inflammation markers (hsCRP and TMAO) and hypertension have the greatest heart risks.
Signal No. 3: Redheads and dental health
The same genetic quirk that creates fiery carrot-tops and autumn-sunset-hued auburn tresses ratchets up pain sensitivity. That’s why natural redheads need on average 20 percent more general anesthesia during surgery. It also turns out they’re twice as likely to avoid the dentist. The trouble with that? Skipping the tooth doc boosts your risk for gum disease, and that can mean a greater risk for diabetes and heart problems.
What to do: Make that appointment. Talk with your dentist about staying pain-free during procedures.
Signal No. 4: Blondes, redheads and melanoma
Fair hair usually pairs up with fair skin – the kind that burns easily in the sun – raising the risk for skin cancer. Redheads may also have less eumelanin, a skin pigment that shields you from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays, and more pheomelanin, which is less protective.
What to do: Use at least SPF 15 on all exposed parts – face, ears, neck, hands – whenever you’re out. Getting yearly skin checks is a brilliant idea.
Signal No. 5: Premature graying and thyroid problems
Most early graying is purely genetic. But becoming a silver fox before your time may signal a thyroid imbalance.
What to do: Feeling “off?” Ask your doctor about a thyroid check if you’re more tired, moody, forgetful, cold, constipated and/or puffy than usual – or if you notice signs like drying skin and hair, and trouble losing weight. Finding and fixing thyroid problems will help you feel like yourself again, regardless of your hair color.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show” and Dr. Mike Roizen is chairman of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.