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Something to Watch out for if You're Going Bald

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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Oct. 2, 2000 -- It's hard enough to grow bald in one's 20s and early 30s, for the obvious reasons -- but early baldness also is well-known within the medical profession to be a harbinger of some less obvious reasons, such as heart disease. And now, to add injury on top of injury, a team of Finnish clinicians reports that bald men are likely to have insulin resistance, which can lead to heart disease, hypertension, and, in about one out of 10 cases, diabetes type 2.

The baldness in question here is fairly severe loss of hair on the crown of the head, called vertex baldness. It is present in slightly more than one out of every 10 men, according to the Finnish team.

The good news is that the early warning from a shiny top gives men ample time to reduce their risks. And with insulin resistance, there are a fair amount of them. Insulin helps the tissues absorb glucose from the blood. Glucose, a type of sugar, is the body's fuel. Insulin resistance means that insulin has become less effective than normal at helping the tissues absorb glucose. The body compensates by producing more insulin. The resulting higher levels of insulin in the blood are believed to cause hypertension and cardiovascular damage.

The study, which was published as a letter in the Sept. 30 issue of the journal TheLancet, showed modestly higher insulin resistance among men who had gone markedly bald on the crown before age 35, as compared to men who were not bald. The bald men also were more likely than those with full heads of hair to suffer from obesity and high blood pressure, and to have abnormal levels of lipids (fats) in their blood or to be on lipid-lowering medication. The study included 154 men with early vertex baldness and 154 men without this condition.

Previous studies have shown that bald men are more likely to get heart disease, but investigators had been puzzled as to why this should be so. This study is "intriguing," says Robert Sherwin, MD, because insulin resistance in bald men would explain that link. But the study does not prove that vertex baldness indicates insulin resistance, says Sherwin, who is a past president of the American Diabetes Association and a professor at Yale University. The differences in insulin resistance between the bald men and those with full heads of hair were only "modest."

So what should a bald man do? "Find out what your fasting blood glucose level is," says Morris F. White, PhD, a researcher at the Joslin Diabetes Center and the Harvard Medical School in Boston. This is a simple, inexpensive test for insulin resistance and is usually performed during a routine checkup. Sherwin suggests that men with severe crown baldness might consider being screened for cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, especially since such men have been shown to have a high risk for heart disease.

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