The gray hairs on a man's head could point to heart problems, new research shows.
A study presented this month at a cardiology conference in Europe links gray hair with an increased risk of heart disease in men, independent of age or other risk factors.
And while doctors haven't confirmed a cause-and-effect link, further research could allow gray hair to serve as a predictor of heart problems.
The hardening and narrowing of one's arteries, called atherosclerosis, and the graying of hair both rely on similar mechanisms, the study's authors said. Those include impaired DNA repair, inflammation, hormonal changes and oxidative stress.
“Atherosclerosis and hair graying occur through similar biological pathways and the incidence of both increases with age,” said Irini Samuel, MD, a cardiologist at Egypt's Cairo University.
“Our findings suggest that, irrespective of chronological age, hair graying indicates biological age and could be a warning sign of increased cardiovascular risk.”
Allan Stewart, MD, director of aortic surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital, told Yahoo! that while we typically associate gray hair with aging, it also develops frequently among young people.
“Your body may be subject to other aging, including coronary arteries, if you’re prematurely gray,” he said, adding that "a presence of premature gray hair doesn’t mean you’re going to have a heart attack tomorrow.”
The study entailed 545 men who were tested for coronary artery disease and divided into subgroups based on whether they had the disease and their amount of white or gray hair. Their gray hair was assessed on a 1-5 scale, with 1 being pure black and 5 being pure white.
Researchers found that hair scored at a 3 or more was associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease, independent of age and other risk factors.
That means even men with only partially gray hair — think salt and pepper — had a higher risk than their counterparts with little or no gray hair. And those who already had coronary heart disease tended to receive higher hair whitening scores, the study found.
The study was presented at the European Society of Cardiology's annual congress.
Follow Josh Hafner on Twitter: @joshhafner