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Shortness 'linked to heart disease'

Published 08/04/2015

A surgical monitor showing heart arteries during angiogram procedure at the London Chest Hospital
A surgical monitor showing heart arteries during angiogram procedure at the London Chest Hospital

As if being short was not already enough of a disadvantage, scientists have now confirmed it increases the risk of heart disease.

In fact the more vertically challenged you are, the greater are your chances of having a dicky heart, according to the findings.

Scientists investigated 180 genetic variants known to affect height in a study group of almost 200,000 people.

They found that every change in height of around 2.5 inches linked to these variants raised or lowered the risk of heart disease by around 13.5%.

Dr Christopher Nelson, one of the researchers from the University of Leicester, said: "The more height increasing genetic variants that you carry the lower your risk of coronary heart disease, and conversely if you were genetically shorter the higher your risk."

Compared with someone 5ft 6ins tall, a 5ft person on average had a 32% higher risk of heart disease, the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found.

An association between height and heart disease risk has been known for more than 60 years, but scientists did not know if the link was causal.

Factors such as poverty or poor nutrition during childhood could have both increased vulnerability to heart disease and stunted growth.

Study leader Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, from the University of Leicester, said the genetic analysis showed that the association was "primary" and not due to "confounding factors".

He added: "The beauty about DNA is that it cannot be modified by one's lifestyle or socio-economic conditions. Therefore if shorter height is directly connected with increased risk of coronary heart disease one would expect that these variants would also be associated with coronary heart disease and this is precisely what we found."

The exact mechanisms driving the association remain unknown but are thought to involve "shared biological processes" affecting both height and heart disease risk.

Dr Nelson said: "We also examined whether the association we found between shorter height and higher risk of coronary heart disease could be explained by an effect of height on known risk factors for coronary heart disease like cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes etc.

"We only observed an association with cholesterol and fat levels which could explain a small proportion (less than a third) of the relationship between shorter height and coronary heart disease."

Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, which part-funded the study, said: " By using the power of very large scale genetic studies, this research is the first to show that the known association between increased height and a lower risk of coronary heart disease is at least in part due to genetics, rather than purely down to nutrition or lifestyle factors."

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