Short European men are more likely to go bald young than taller men, a large genetic study has revealed, as well confirming there may be some truth in the old wives' tale that a man's chance of going bald young is related to his mother's father's hair.

Comparison of about 10,800 men who went prematurely bald with about 11,700 men who didn't has honed in on 23 sites in the genome to find mutations linked to early baldness, according to a study in the journal Nature Communications. This brings the total up to 63 sites in the genome linked to early male baldness.

"Usually hair loss may start in the 20s or 30s, but there are some men really affected early in life. About 10% of men reach the most severe grade of hair loss by the age of 30," study author Stefanie Heilmann-Heimbach of the University of Bonn, Germany, told IBTimes UK.

Mixed bag for bald men

Conditions such as prostate cancer and heart disease have been linked to early baldness in men before, and this genetic analysis confirmed those results. However, the authors emphasised that the risk was only very slightly increased for men with premature baldness.

"Men with premature hair loss do not need to be concerned," said Markus Nöthen, also of the University of Bonn and a study author. "The risks of illness are only slightly increased."

The research also discovered a potential benefit associated with premature baldness. Men who went bald younger also had paler skin and increased bone density. This suggests that they may be better at synthesising Vitamin D than their counterparts with a full head of hair. Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, teeth and muscles.

There are hypotheses that baldness in men is in fact an evolutionary advantage for this reason, as greater exposure to sunshine helps create more Vitamin D. However, this raises questions about why women wouldn't evolve baldness too if this is the case.

"This is just something ewe see in the genetic data. It's only a hypothesis – it's something that will have to be investigated in future," Heilmann-Heimbach said.

The popular belief that a man's chance of going bald is related to his mother's father is was also lent some weight by the study. Six of the sites in the genome linked to early baldness were located on the X chromosome, which men receive from their mother.

The study authors hope to lead to evidence-based treatments for male-pattern baldness, which can cause stress to many men, particularly if it happens early in life. Current treatments for male pattern baldness don't work on many men and can have severe side effects.