To Your Health

Do creases in the earlobe signify potential heart problems?

Q. I remember reading years ago that an earlobe crease meant that a person has some sort of heart problem. My husband has these creases in both ears, and I need to know if there is anything to this notion.

A. The earlobe crease has been observed on sculptures from the Greek and Roman era in the museums of Rome, and it may be a useful marker for the presence of coronary artery disease in people of European descent, at least for men under the age of 60 years. The presence of a diagonal earlobe crease has been associated with coronary artery disease in about 30 reputable research studies over the past few years. The connection between heart disease and the crease is still controversial and may not apply at all to Native Americans and to Asian races. At the Mayo Clinic, out of 121 patients complaining of chest pain, of those with an earlobe crease, about 90% were having a heart attack compared to about 10% for those with chest pain but no earlobe crease. Also, patients with earlobe creases have a poorer survival rate after a heart attack than those without creases.

The presence of creases on both earlobes is even taken as evidence by some physicians that the person needs screening to exclude the possibility of coronary heart disease. Some physicians consider the earlobe creases a better predictor of sudden death from a heart attack in middle-aged men than smoking, obesity, elevated cholesterol levels, or a sedentary lifestyle. Research suggests that the earlobe creases may be especially useful in emergency rooms when little or no history is available on a patient. While earlobe creases do not prove that heart disease exists, it probably suggests a genetic predisposition to coronary artery disease.

The earlobe crease may not be the only clue that the body exhibits increased risk of coronary artery disease. It appears that baldness and increased chest hair also indicate an additional risk of heart attack in men under the age of 60 years, independently of other coronary risk factors. Baldness and increased chest hair probably relate to elevated levels of dihydrotestosterone, a more powerful relative of the male hormone testosterone. Certain fatty acids are potent inhibitors of the enzyme that make dihydrotestosterone from testosterone, and a supplement containing omega-3 fatty acids plus gamma-linolenic acid could be quite beneficial.

The reason for the earlobe crease may have nothing to do with dihydrotestosterone but instead may reflect a loss of elastin, the protein present in arteries that is responsible for maintaining their flexibility. An inflexible earlobe is probably not a problem but an inflexible artery, or "hardening of the arteries," puts a strain on the heart as it strives to pump blood. A supplement of several antioxidants, emphasizing vitamin C, along with a modest copper supplement could aid the body in making better elastin.

A clinical nutritionist can guide your husband in choosing the diet and food supplement program best suited for his situation. A personal trainer can assist him in finding an exercise program that he enjoys and one that strengthens his heart. While an inherited predisposition to coronary heart disease cannot be totally removed, it can be modified with a healthy lifestyle.

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