Many men who bald early would prefer to have a full head of hair, while some shrug it off as a matter of little consequence. However, a new study has reported that a possible consequence of early balding is the development of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The incurable condition, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, results in progressive degeneration of the nervous system. The link between the two conditions may lead to new and productive research for ALS that could halt or slow the downward progression to death. The study, conducted by Harvard University researchers, was published on August 13 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
In 1992, the researchers evaluated 51,520 US men ages 46 to 81, and asked them to recall the shape of their hairline at age 45, and choose from a series of pictures depicting no balding, moderate or extensive balding. Approximately 44% of the men reported no balding, about 42% of the men reported moderate balding and 14% reported extensive balding at age 45. During the follow-up period (1992–2008), 42 men were diagnosed with ALS. Of those, 13 had reported no balding, 18 had reported moderate balding, and 11 had reported extensive alopecia at age 45 years. The investigators found that the men who reported extensive balding had an almost three-fold increased risk of ALS compared with those who reported no balding/ In addition, the investigators found a linear trend of increased risk of ALS with increasing level of balding at age 45 years.
The authors conclude that men with early-onset balding appear to have a higher risk of ALS. They recommended that the mechanisms underlying this association merit further investigation.
ALS is a progressive and fatal neurological disorder characterized by progressive degeneration of nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain. It is one of the most devastating of the disorders that affects the function of nerves and muscles. The disorder does not affect mental functioning or the senses (such as seeing or hearing), and it is not contagious. Currently, there is no cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
According to the ALS Association, the following statistics currently apply to ALS:
Most people who develop ALS are between the ages of 40 and 70, although the disease can occur at a younger age.
The average age for the onset of ALS is 55.
ALS occurs throughout the world with no racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic boundaries.
ALS affects as many as 30,000 Americans with 5,000 new cases diagnosed in the US each year.
There are three known classifications of ALS:
- Sporadic: The most common form of ALS in the U.S., involving 90-95% of all cases. These cases occur randomly, without any known cause, and there is no association with persons in the family with the disease.
- Familial: Suggests that the disease is inherited and accounts for a very small number of cases in the United States, about 5-10%.
- Guamanian: An extremely high incidence of ALS was observed in Guam and the Trust Territories of the Pacific in the 1950s.
Patients who suffer from ALS initially experience weakness in one of their limbs that develops over a matter of days or, more commonly, a few weeks. Then, several weeks to months later, weakness develops in another limb. Sometimes the initial problem can be one of slurred speech or difficulty swallowing. However, as ALS progresses, more and more symptoms are noticed. The following are the most common symptoms of ALS. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
- Twitching and cramping of muscles, especially those in the hands and feet
- Loss of motor control in the hands and arms
- Impairment in the use of the arms and legs
- Tripping and falling
- Dropping things
- Persistent fatigue
- Uncontrollable periods of laughing or crying
- Slurred or thick speech and difficulty in projecting the voice
As the disease progresses, symptoms may include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing