How Height Might Affect Heart Health

Heart disease may be more common in shorter people

(RxWiki News) Being short may have implications that extend beyond height and into the realm of heart health.

A new study from the University of Leicester in England found that people who are shorter than average may have a raised risk of heart disease. For the first time, researchers ruled out other factors like nutrition and poverty, focusing instead on the genetic aspects of height and heart disease.

While patients can’t change their genes, knowing about the risk factors can guide lifestyle factors like diet and exercise.

Dr. Nilesh Samani, British Heart Foundation professor of cardiology at the University of Leicester, led this study.

"For more than 60 years it has been known that there is an inverse relationship between height and risk of coronary heart disease," Dr. Samani said in a press release. "Now, using a genetic approach, researchers at the University of Leicester undertaking the study on behalf of an international consortium of scientists (the CARDIoGRAM+C4D consortium) have shown that the association between shorter height and higher risk of coronary heart disease is a primary relationship and is not due to confounding factors."

This research may have widespread implications. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both the UK and the US and the most common cause of premature death worldwide, according to Dr. Samani and team.

Dr. Samani and team looked at genetic data on almost 200,000 people with and without heart disease. They then looked at 180 genetic factors that may affect a person’s height to determine whether there was a tie between those factors and heart disease.

Every 2.5 inches in height affected the risk of heart disease by 13.5 percent, Dr. Samani and team found.

For instance, a person who was 5 feet tall had a 13.5 percent higher risk of heart disease than a person who was 5 feet 2.5 inches tall. The difference in risk between a 5-foot person and a 6-foot person was more than 60 percent.

Dr. Samani and team also looked at whether other factors might affect heart disease risk besides height, such as high blood pressure or cholesterol. They found that cholesterol levels might explain a small portion of the increased risk of heart disease in people who are short.

"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," Dr. Samani said. "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."

This article was published in the April issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

Multiple sources, such as the British Heart Foundation and the National Institute for Health Research, funded this research. Several of the more than 40 study authors received grants from sources like the British Heart Foundation during the study period.

Review Date: 
April 13, 2015