It's the hallmark of getting older; no, not the misplaced keys or just-got-out-of-bed aches and pains — we're talking about graying hair. It may be natural, but, in men, those salt-and-pepper locks could be linked to something pretty serious: heart disease.
New research from Cairo University in Egypt, presented at the April 2017 European Society of Cardiology meeting, found that the more gray hair a guy had, the higher his risk of heart disease, regardless of age and other risk factors. But don't panic just yet — there's no cause-and-effect link between gray hair and heart disease here, just an association.
Study participants ranged from ages 42 to 64 and were divided into five groups based on the extent of their grays — from "pure black hair" to "pure white hair." Researchers found that 80 percent of the men showed signs of heart disease, and most of those men had high "hair-whitening scores" (aka, more gray or white hair).
The researchers aren't quite sure on the "why" of this just yet, but here's what they do know: Silver strands and atherosclerosis — the hardening and narrowing of the arteries — share similar mechanisms, as both are associated with "unhealthy biological aging," which includes inflammation, hormonal changes, and impaired DNA.
Future research still needs to examine genetic and environmental factors, and also if there's a similar connection for women with whitening hair.
Still, graying guys should take note. While you can't change when (or if) you'll start to go gray, you can stay on top of what researchers call "modifiable risk factors," such as maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol levels low. And, as always, if you think you've got a heightened risk of heart disease, get regular check-ups to keep a close eye on your ticker's — and overall — health.