Standing head and shoulders above the crowd has its benefits, but those extra inches can come at a cost. Being tall is fundamentally associated with a number of diseases, from varicose veins to peripheral nerve damage, according to a new study.
An international team of researchers compared height measurements, both genetic and physical, with the presence of more than a thousand traits in more than 280,000 American adults, confirming suspicions that height is linked to a a number of common illnesses.
“Using genetic methods applied to the VA Million Veteran program, we found evidence that adult height can impact more than 100 clinical traits, including several conditions associated with poor outcomes and poor quality of life – peripheral neuropathy, lower extremity ulcers and chronic venous insufficiency,” says study lead author Sridharan Raghavan of Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center in the United States.
“We conclude that height may be an unrecognized, non-modifiable risk factor for several common conditions in adults.”
Scientists have known for some time that tall people are at higher risk of developing a variety of cancers, not to mention conditions such as aortic rupture and pulmonary embolisms.
It’s not that short people fare much better, facing increased risks of coronary heart disease, stroke, liver disease and mental health disorders.
What is unclear is whether these health issues are related to height biology in particular, or the result of environmental conditions such as poor diet or adverse socio-cultural effects, which can also affect height. stature of a person.
Beyond simple comparisons of measured height and medical reports, this latest analysis used genetic data linked to the clinical records of more than 200,000 white adults and 50,000 black adults from the US Million Veteran Affairs program.
Using a method to link genes with known functions to the presence of disease, the team attempted to match thousands of genetic variations known to influence a person’s height with more than a thousand characteristics associated with the disease.
A similar comparison was also made based on the measured heights, which averaged 176 centimeters (5 ft 9 in).
Given that previous studies using similar methods have looked at no more than 50 traits, using much smaller genetic databases, the new analysis can be considered the largest of its kind.
The results support previous studies that concluded that taller people had an easier time with cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia and coronary heart disease, at the cost of being more prone to atrial fibrillation and heart disease. varicose veins.
They also added a few more conditions to the list of risks, including skin and bone infections, and a type of nerve damage to the extremities called peripheral neuropathy.
Thanks to the fact that the sample size was so large, the team also looked at the role that gender might play, with asthma and non-specific peripheral nerve disorders being associated with increased height in women. but not in men.
Establishing stronger links between many height genes and various disease traits makes it less likely that we can point to confounded environmental causes, or even the influence of body mass – but still does not explain how diseases can result from large genes.
Further studies could help rule out causation, by identifying the underlying biochemistry or identifying how physical size impacts our body’s functionality.
Future research would also help to strengthen some of the study’s weaknesses, using more relevant genetic libraries that extend beyond a European ancestry and sampling a wider portion of the population to include more black populations. and Hispanics, non-veterans and women.
There’s not much we can do about our height, but knowing how it relates to our health might at least help us stay alert to things we can do something about.
This research was published in PLOS genetics.