Standing head and shoulders above the crowd has its perks, but those extra inches can come at a cost. According to a new study, being tall is fundamentally associated with a number of diseases, from varicose veins to peripheral nerve damage.
An international team of researchers compared measures of height, both genetic and physical, to the presence of more than a thousand traits in more than 280,000 American adults, confirming suspicions that height is linked to a number of common diseases.
“Using genetic methods applied to the VA Million Veteran Program, we found evidence that adult height can affect more than 100 clinical features, including several conditions associated with poor outcomes and quality of life – peripheral neuropathy, lower extremity ulcers and chronic venous insufficiency.” say the study’s lead author, Sridharan Raghavan of the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center in the US.
“We conclude that height may be an unrecognized maladaptive risk factor for several common disorders in adults.”
Not that shorter people are much better off, with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, liver disease and mental disorders.
What’s not clear is whether these health challenges are particularly related to the biology of height, or are the result of environmental factors such as poor nutrition or harmful socio-cultural effects, which can also affect a person’s stature.
This latest analysis went beyond mere comparisons of measured height and medical reports, but made use of genetic data linked to the clinical records of more than 200,000 white and 50,000 black adults from the US Veteran Affairs’ Million Veterans Program†
With help from a way of relating genes with known functions on the presence of disease, the team tried to match thousands of genetic variations known to affect a person’s height with more than a thousand characteristics linked to disease.
A similar comparison was also made based on measured heights, which averaged 176 centimeters (5 feet 9 inches).
Given previous studies that used similar methods, looked at no more than 50 traits, using much smaller genetic databases, and the new analysis can be considered the largest of its kind.
The results support previous studies that concluded that taller people have it easier when it comes to cardiovascular conditions such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia and coronary heart disease, at the cost of greater susceptibility to atrial fibrillations and varicose veins.
They also added a few more conditions to the risk list, including infections of the skin and bones, and a type of nerve damage to the extremities called peripheral neuropathy.
Thanks to the sample size being so large, the team also delved into the role that gender might play, with asthma and nonspecific peripheral nervous disorders being associated with greater height in women, but not in men.
By establishing closer links between numerous genes for height and different pathological traits, we’re less likely to point the finger at confounding environmental causes, or even the influence of body mass – but it still doesn’t explain how diseases can result. are of high genes.
Additional studies can help pinpoint the cause, identify the underlying biochemistry, or pinpoint the way physical size is reflected in our body’s functionality.
Future research would also help amplify some of the study’s weaknesses, by leveraging more relevant genetic libraries beyond European ancestry and sampling a larger proportion of the population with more black and Hispanic Americans. populations, non-veterans and women.
There isn’t much we can do about our height, but knowing how it relates to our health can at least keep us vigilant about those things we can do something about.
This research was published in PLOS Genetics†
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