There are times when researchers uncover interesting collateral information when attempting to find answers to the most puzzling health questions. Over the past several years, many of these unusual findings have been related to an individual’s risk for developing heart disease.
It sounds implausible and slightly amusing, but more than two dozen scientific studies conducted over the past few decades have examined the relationship between earlobe creases and increased risk for heart disease. Perhaps the most well-known of these studies was published in 1991. Researchers from the University of Chicago followed more than a hundred subjects for 10 years and discovered that individuals with a diagonal crease across the earlobe had markedly higher instances of heart disease or death from heart-related conditions than those without such a crease. The researchers in Chicago were not alone in their findings.
Swedish researchers performed over 500 autopsies on victims of cardiac arrest or heart disease and found that earlobe creases were a “positive predictive value” for more than 68 percent of the subjects they examined. More than 80 percent of their subjects under the age of 40 who had succumbed to coronary artery disease had earlobe creases. A Turkish study determined that earlobe creasing was a more serious risk factor for heart disease than family history, diabetes, or even smoking. At the Montreal Heart Institute, researchers reviewed cases of nearly 350 admitted patients. Of those, 91 percent of patients with earlobe creases had heart disease as compared with only 61 percent of those without creases. Irish scientists studied almost 250 patients and found that earlobe creases were indicative of heart disease in more than 71 percent of participants.
All of this research appears to support what statisticians call low sensitivity-high specificity. This means that individuals without earlobe creases are not necessarily immune from heart disease, but that individuals with earlobe creases are much more likely to have cardiovascular trouble at some point in their lives. Though this evidence seems to present a strong case for the relationship between earlobe creases and cardiovascular disease, it is essential to note that many similar studies have found no such connection. There is currently no medical consensus on whether or not earlobe creases are a significant indicator of heart disease or an individual’s predisposition for it. Most experts believe that creasing simply increases with age, as does the risk for developing cardiovascular disease.
However, earlobe creases are certainly not the only unusual supposed risk factors for heart disease.
In 2004, British researchers at Bristol University announced that they had found evidence to support the relationship between the length of a woman’s leg and her risk for developing heart disease. Among 4000 participants, those with the shortest legs were at the greatest risk for developing heart problems. For every four centimeters above a specified baseline leg length, the risk decreased by 16 percent. Leg length remained a strong indicator of risk even after more traditional causes of heart disease such as high cholesterol, weight, age, tobacco use, and poor lung function were accounted for.
Ring Finger Length
Researchers at Liverpool University in the United Kingdom found that males with short ring fingers had lower testosterone levels which increased their risk of early heart attack. The Liverpool study measured participants’ index and ring fingers, then divided the lengths. In subjects with a ratio of measurements greater than 1.0, testosterone levels were found to be significantly lower than in those subjects whose measurements fell in a smaller measurement ratio. Low testosterone levels have been linked to higher instances of early heart attack.
Male Pattern Baldness
In a study of more than 22,000 male physicians conducted over the course of 11 years, researchers found that participants with frontal baldness were nearly 10 percent more likely to develop heart disease than their non-balding counterparts, while subjects with more hair loss or crown baldness were 23 to almost 40 percent more likely to have heart disease. A 2007 study by researchers at the University of Arizona confirmed that baldness does in fact increase risk for heart disease, but it ultimately concluded that hair loss by itself was not a reliable indicator of risk.
Halitosis is just one of the side effects caused by advanced gum disease, and studies have shown that individuals with this condition produce antibodies that increase their risk of heart disease by as much as 100 percent. In fact, one study even reported that treating gum disease could reverse thickening of the carotid arteries.
Generally thought to be a positive trait, one British study found that clear skin could be a potentially life-threatening condition. Of 11,000 males who participated in the study, those with acne as teenagers were 30 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular or heart disease in middle age and beyond.
A recently published study in the Biochemical Journal has suggested that there is a connection between cardiovascular disease and green-tinged mucus. The discoloration is caused by an enzyme in the body called myeloperoxidase, which fights bacteria by producing an acid that can damage tissue and lead to asthma, arthritis, and thickening of arterial walls.
There are two different types of earwax: dry and wet. Individuals produce only one kind or the other for the extent of their lives, and earwax type seems to be a hereditary trait. A 1966 Japanese study found that individuals who produced dry earwax had an increased risk of arterial thickening than those who produced wet earwax. No other study since has confirmed these findings – a later peer review, in fact, concluded that the results should be viewed with suspicion. Yet when one considers all the other strange indicators of heart disease, certainly the kind of earwax an individual produces is no odder than any other potential risk factor.
Cardiovascular disease is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition that should never be taken lightly. However, these unusual risk factors can surely add some levity to the conversation.