How tall you need to be before becoming at risk of more than 100 diseases
HEIGHT is something most deem desirable – especially men.
But they may reconsider the appeal of being tall after scientists have found it could raise the risk of more than 100 diseases.
Being tall has been linked with unfavourable outcomes in previous work, including cancer and stroke.
The most recent study is the largest of its kind, involving more than 280,000 people.
Almost all participants were men and were part of a database called the VA Million Veteran Program.
Researchers analysed their genes and found some variants that influence height are also linked to some 127 medical conditions.
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Confirming previous findings, the study found a higher risk of atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat) and varicose veins in leggy individuals.
But for the first time, they showed higher odds for conditions including peripheral neuropathy.
The condition, which tends to cause weakness and pain in the limbs and muscle weakness, is the result of nerve damage.
In the UK it's estimated almost one in 10 people aged 55 or over are affected by peripheral neuropathy.
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The researchers linked genetically predicted height to conditions such as erectile dysfunction and urinary retention – both of which are associated with neuropathy.
Conditions such as skin infections and abscesses, chronic leg ulcers, blood clots in the veins and bone infections were also noted as more risky.
However, people considered tall were generally protected from cardiovascular problems, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
The study defined “tall” as being over 5ft 9” (175cm).
While this may be considered tall in countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Nigeria, for example, it is the average height of a British man.
Height is not considered a risk factor for disease like weight, smoking status or diet may be.
But Dr Sridharan Raghavan from the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System, who led the study, said height may “truly be a risk factor” on its own.
The researchers did not investigate how being tall can lead to ill health.
But some theories include that taller people may face health issues in their limbs because they are a greater distance away from the body.
Blood has to travel further across the body, impacting vessels.
It may also be down to the amount of weight they bear on their feet – as tall people were more susceptible to toe and foot deformities, too.
Being tall isn’t just due to genetic makeup, but a person’s diet or environment as they are growing up.
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It’s not clear at this stage if these health problems are bound in the biology of height, or factors associated with it.
The findings were published in the journal PLoS Genetics.
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