Thursday, September 29, 2022

A person’s height can affect their chance of developing some common health problems: Study

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According to a thorough genetic study undertaken by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs’ Million Veteran Program, a person’s height may become a factor of risk for various health concerns in adulthood (MVP).

There was a relationship established between height and a lower risk of coronary heart disease, as well as a link between height and a higher risk of peripheral neuropathy and circulation issues. On June 2, 2022, the findings were published in the journal PLOS Genetics.

Dr. Sridharan Raghavan from the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System, who led the study, described the results as “a significant contribution to understanding how height is related to clinical conditions from an epidemiologic perspective.” More research is needed before the findings might lead to changes in clinical care, says Raghavan.

However, the results highlight the association between height and clinical conditions that impact the lives of Veterans, he explains. “The broad scope of our study yielded a catalogue of clinical conditions associated with genetically predicted height. In other words, these are conditions for which height might be a risk factor, or a protective factor, irrespective of other environmental conditions that also could impact height and health.”

Height isn’t usually thought to be a risk factor for illnesses. However, previous study has found links between height and the probability of developing a variety of health problems. It’s unclear if this association has a biological foundation or is the result of other variables.

Part of a person’s adult height is determined by genes acquired from their parents. However, environmental factors like as diet, socioeconomic situation, and demography (such as age or gender) all influence ultimate height. This is why establishing a link between height and illness risk can be challenging.

Researchers at the VA looked at genetic and medical data from over 280,000 Veterans enrolled in MVP to see whether there was a link. They matched these findings to a list of 3,290 genetic variations linked to height culled from a recent genome study.

They discovered that the risk levels of 127 different medical disorders are connected to white individuals’ genetically determined height. Because Black patients are underrepresented in genetic research, there is a scarcity of data on them. However, the medical characteristics related with height were relatively constant between Black and white individuals in this study. In the MVP research, almost 21% of Veterans were black. At least 48 of the connections found in white patients were also found in black patients.

According to the researchers, all of the most important findings, such as height being connected to a decreased risk of coronary heart disease but a greater risk of atrial fibrillation, peripheral neuropathy, and circulatory problems, were identified in both Black and white subjects.

Overall, depending on the condition, genetically predicted height was connected to both reduced and higher illness risk. People who are tall tend to be less likely to have cardiovascular issues. Being taller was connected to a decreased risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and coronary heart disease in the study. However, taller participants had a greater risk of atrial fibrillation. Previous study has demonstrated these links.

Being tall, on the other hand, may raise the risk of the majority of non-cardiovascular illnesses studied. This was notably true with peripheral neuropathy and vein-related circulation diseases.

Damage to the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord, notably in the limbs, is known as peripheral neuropathy. Height has previously been associated to poorer neural conduction and nerve issues in research. The MVP study verifies this association by utilising genetic methods to demonstrate that tall persons have a higher chance of nerve issues.

Erectile dysfunction and urine retention, both of which are connected to neuropathy, were linked by the researchers to genetically predicted height.

The findings on peripheral neuropathy, according to Raghavan, are “very fascinating.” He shared his findings with clinical colleagues who deal with individuals with peripheral neuropathy on a regular basis. Raghavan’s colleagues agreed that tall persons have the worst neuropathy, but they were unaware of any further research that supported this theory.

Cellulitis, skin abscesses, persistent leg ulcers, and osteomyelitis have all been connected to a person’s height. Being tall tends to increase the risk of circulation problems such varicose veins and thrombosis (blood clots in the veins).

Height might also put you at risk for illnesses that aren’t related to neuropathy or circulation. People whose genetics suggested they would be tall were more likely to have toe and foot abnormalities, which can be caused by higher weight bearing in tall people.

Height was also linked to an increased incidence of asthma and non-specific nerve problems in women, but not in men, according to the study.

According to the researchers, the findings show that height may be an overlooked but biologically essential and unchanging risk factor for a variety of common illnesses, particularly those affecting the extremities.

It may be useful to consider a person’s height when assessing risk and disease surveillance, they say.

More work is needed before this research can be translated into clinical care, says Raghavan. “I think our findings are a first step toward disease risk assessment in that we identify conditions for which height might truly be a risk factor,” he explains. “Future work will have to evaluate whether incorporating height into disease risk assessments can inform strategies to modify other risk factors for specific conditions.”

Height and Health Conditions

Future work will also focus on the potential mechanisms that tie height to these health conditions.

Height might also put you at risk for illnesses that aren’t related to neuropathy or circulation. People whose genetics suggested they would be tall were more likely to have toe and foot abnormalities, which can be caused by higher weight bearing in tall people.

Height was also linked to an increased incidence of asthma and non-specific nerve problems in women, but not in men, according to the study.

According to the researchers, the findings show that height may be an overlooked but biologically essential and unchanging risk factor for a variety of common illnesses, particularly those affecting the extremities.

Raghavan explains that studies such as this would not be possible without MVP. “MVP is extremely important for these types of studies,” he said. “By linking clinical data with genetic data, we can study clinical outcomes that are not commonly collected in other types of observational cohort data. For example, some of the stronger associations in our study — with peripheral neuropathy, venous insufficiency, osteomyelitis, foot ulcers — would not be collected routinely in lots of other data that include genetics. This linkage is helpful for research and for translating research findings back to clinical care.”

Beyond its sheer number of participants, MVP also allows for previously impossible research because of participation of Veterans from many different groups across the nation. “The other important contribution of MVP is its diversity,” explained Raghavan. “While the majority of participants are white, there are large numbers of Black and Hispanic participants, who have been underrepresented in genetic studies in the past.”

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