Short people have a greater risk of heart disease, a study reported by the BBC on April 9, found. The study found that the incidence of coronary disease decreased with every 2.5 inches of height increase. The reduction between a patient who is five feet tall and one who is six feet is about 64 percent.
The study is on-line with the New England Journal of Medicine and is titled Genetically Determined Height and Coronary Artery Disease. The authors looked at 180 height-associated genetic variants in almost 200,000 patients and explored the relationship between height and coronary disease. While traditionally accepted risk factors for heart disease such as atherosclerosis, cholesterol and triglyceride levels were found in about 30 percent of cases, the primary linkage in most appeared to be height.
The authors note that the apparent relationship between atherosclerosis and height was found in several different, overlapping genetic pathways. They suggest that this only partially explains their findings. The complete relationship between being short and coronary disease remains to be explained.
Short people, in the case of this study, are those at the lower end of the height curve for normal humans. A study measuring people done in the United States between 2003 and 2006 found that the average height for an adult woman is 5.3 feet while men average 5.78 feet. The lowest 15 percent of American women average 5 feet in height while short American men have about five inches more in height.
While increased height may reduce the risk of heart disease, other studies have shown that it increases the risk for many types of cancer. The largest study, derived from the Million Woman Study in the United Kingdom, found
Cancer incidence increases with increasing adult height for most cancer sites. The relation between height and total cancer RR is similar in different populations.
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, from the University of Leicester, one of the study authors, is quoted by the BBC as noting that the increased risk related to a shorter height is far less than the risk from other factors such as smoking. “In the context of major risk factors this is small – smoking increases the risk by 200-300% – but it is not trivial.”
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, an agency of the United States government, lists a number of controllable risk factors for coronary disease. Reducing high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, lowering blood pressure and controlling diabetes top the list of things that patients can do to decrease the chances of heart disease. The Institute also states that quitting smoking, exercise and maintaining a healthy weight will also reduce those chances.
The link between being short and an increased risk of heart disease has been noted in other studies for two decades. This is the largest study of its kind, though, and the results suggest the need for additional genetic research into the topic. With 180 different genes related in one way or another to a person’s height, the actual relationship is likely complex and will take some effort to unravel.