Researchers based at the Rocky Mountain VA Medical Center, Colorado have discovered that a taller stature is associated with an increased risk for several diseases such as atrial fibrillation and peripheral neuropathy.
Height was associated with several common conditions such as heart disease and cancer in the past. However, scientists have struggled to separate the role of actual height in disease from conflicting factors affecting height, such as nutrition and the socioeconomic status of a person. A new study, published in PLOS Genetics aims to remove these confounding factors and unveils several connections between height and the risk for disease.
“Using genetic methods applied to the VA Million Veteran Program, we found evidence that adult height may impact over 100 clinical traits, including…peripheral neuropathy, lower extremity ulcers, and chronic venous insufficiency,” says Sridharan Raghavan, first author of the study and assistant professor at the University of Colorado’s Medical Campus in a press statement.
In the study, Raghavan and his team used data, including genetic and health information, from over 250,000 men and women to assess links to more than 1000 clinical traits. In order to isolate height as a factor in disease the researchers looked separately at connections between a person´s actual height and connections to their predicted height based on genetics.
The results of the study show, that a tall genetically predicted height is associated with an increased risk for atrial fibrillation and venous thromboembolic events. However, being in this group was also associated with a lower risk for certain conditions such as coronary heart disease and hypertension.
The study findings add to previous hypertension research published in Nature, identifying links between body height and cardiovascular function by comparing several studies to one another. Upon comparison, short stature was associated with a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, citing smaller coronary artery diameter in short people as a possible reason for this.
Despite discovering new links between height and disease, Raghavan´s research has its limitations. ”I think our study is still a couple steps removed from translation to clinical care,” he told Inside Precision Medicine.
“First, we will have to demonstrate that height is additive to existing approaches for risk stratification for a height-associated condition. Second, we will have to demonstrate that using height and other risk information for a condition to target an intervention (e.g., a diagnostic test or preventive treatment) is beneficial at the individual and population levels.”
The researchers conclude that the study is just a first step and that in the future more studies will be needed to clarify some of the associations uncovered, for example, in a more diverse international population.