Balding, Heart Risks Linked

Men who are losing the hair on the crowns of their heads have up to a 36 percent greater risk of experiencing heart problems, including heart attacks and bypass surgery, a study found.

Men with a receding hairline are not at increased risk, but those going bald at the crown should pay special attention to their blood pressure and cholesterol levels and lead a healthy lifestyle, researchers said.

In a study in yesterday's edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine, JoAnn Manson of Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston found that the greater the hair loss on the top of a man's head, the greater the risk.

Balding men with high cholesterol levels had almost three times the risk for heart disease when compared with men with a full head of hair who also had high cholesterol.

Past studies have confirmed a link between hair loss and heart problems, but this study is among the largest. It also is one of the first to include detailed information about different patterns of baldness and to identify the risk pattern in men of all ages.

The study, co-written by several doctors in Boston, analyzed baldness patterns of 22,000 male doctors who were 40 to 84 years old when enrolled in the Physicians' Health Study. Eleven years into the study, the researchers asked the doctors to describe their patterns of baldness at age 45. Out of the total pool sampled, about 1,500 men reported a coronary event. Balding men accounted for 62 percent of that total.

The authors suggest one possible biological explanation for the increased risk: The bald men had elevated levels of testosterone and a hormone it converts into, dihydrotestosterone. Previous studies have suggested that elevated testosterone levels may contribute to increased risk for hypertension and abnormal cholesterol levels. Manson said it is a hypothesis that merits further study.

Estrogen and Alzheimer's

Short-term doses of estrogen seem to do little or nothing to help women with Alzheimer's disease, researchers said yesterday.

But they said this does not negate other studies that suggest estrogen can help delay the onset of Alzheimer's, the most common cause of dementia. And researchers are still experimenting to see if giving estrogen over a long period of time might help.

Alzheimer's affects twice as many women as men. Estrogen therapy seems to help older women with other conditions, such as heart disease, and some studies have suggested it might be important in Alzheimer's.

"A strong biological rationale suggests that estrogen therapy might benefit women with Alzheimer's disease," Victor Henderson, a neurologist at the University of Southern California, and colleagues wrote in their report, to be published in today's issue of the journal Neurology.

They noted that estrogen seems to stimulate the growth of brain cells and also acts to protect them.

They tested 40 women with mild to moderate dementia due to Alzheimer's. All were past menopause and thus would be possible candidates for estrogen replacement therapy anyway.

They gave them standard doses for either one month or four months, and compared their scores on tests for dementia.