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Being Short Increases Risk of Heart Disease: Study

Apr 09, 2015 02:27 PM EDT

(Photo : ktasimar / Fotolia)

Apparently being short increases your risk of developing coronary heart diseases, and the shorter you are, the more at risk you are.

That's at least according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which details how every 2.5 inches change in your height affects your risk of coronary heart disease by 13.5 percent. For example, compared to a 5-foot, 6-inch tall person, a 5-foot-tall person on average has a 32 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease because of their relatively shorter stature.

"For more than 60 years it has been known that there is an inverse relationship between height and risk of coronary heart disease," Sir Nilesh Samani from the University of Leicester, who led the study, said in a statement.

"It is not clear," he added, "whether this relationship is due to confounding factors such as poor socioeconomic environment, or nutrition, during childhood that on the one hand determine achieved height and on the other the risk of coronary heart disease, or whether it represents a primary relationship between shorter height and more coronary heart disease.

So Samani and his colleagues studied about 200,000 people who were part of the CARDIoGRAM+C4D consortium, all of whom either did or did not have coronary heart disease. They examined their DNA - 180 genetic variants to be exact - that affect height also associated with coronary heart disease.

"The beauty about DNA is that it cannot be modified by one's lifestyle or socio-economic conditions," Samani noted. "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."

According to their results, for every change in height of 6.5 cm (about 2.5 inches) caused by these variants the risk of coronary heart disease changed on average by 13.5 percent.

"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," explained Dr. Christopher Nelson, one of the researchers.

Coronary heart disease is the commonest cause of premature death worldwide, in which the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle become narrowed due to a deposition of fatty material (plaque) in the artery walls. If a blood clot forms over the plaque then the artery can become completely blocked, suddenly giving rise to a heart attack.

"While we know about many lifestyle factors such as smoking that affect risk of coronary heart disease, our findings underscore the fact that the causes of this common disease are very complex and other things that we understand much more poorly have a significant impact," Samani concluded. "While our findings do not have any immediate clinical implications, better and fuller understanding of the biological mechanisms that underlie the relationship between shorter height and higher risk of coronary heart disease may open up new ways for its prevention and treatment."

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