Heart disease is discriminating, size matters

According to a new study published in the European Heart Journal on June 9, your height can increase your risk for heart disease.

Tuula Paajanen, MD, a researcher at the Department of Forensic Medicine at the University of Tampere in Finland, and her team conducted the first systematic review and meta-analysis to determine if height is a factor in CHD with a forward look toward "to finding out the possible pathophysiological, environmental and genetic mechanisms behind the association".

The Finnish researchers analyzed, "the relationship between height and mortality, controlling for age and other traditional risk factors" amongst 52 studies that included 3,012,747 men and women. The average height for men defined as short was 165.4cm and tall 177.5cm; for women short was 153cm and tall 166.4cm. 

The authors concluded, "short stature was associated with" 1.5 increased likelihood of "cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in both men and women" and intend to "explore possible pathophysiological and genetic background of this peculiar association."

"The reasons remain open to hypotheses. We hypothesize that shorter people have smaller coronary arteries and smaller coronary arteries may be occluded earlier in life due to factors that increase risk, such as a poorer socioeconomic background with poor nutrition and infections that result in poor foetal or early life growth," said Paajanen.

"However, recent findings on the genetic background of body height suggest that inherited factors, rather than speculative early-life poor nutrition or birth weight, may explain the association between small stature and an increased risk of heart disease in later life." Therefore, "we are carrying out further research to investigate these hypotheses," continued Paajanen.

The researchers wanted to clarify that height is an uncontrollable factor and making healthy lifestyle choices with respect to smoking, drinking, exercise and diet can all impact the risk of heart disease. Plus, "...the average height of populations is constantly increasing, this may have beneficial effect of deaths and illness from cardiovascular disease."

Jaakko Tuomilehto, MD, MPolSc, PhD, a professor of public health at the University of Helsinki, also published an editorial in the June 9 publication of the European Heart Journal and said, "Most of us know approximately our own height ranking, and, if we are at the low end, we should take coronary risk factor control more seriously. On the other hand, tall people are not protected against coronary heart disease, and they also need to pay attention to the same risk factors as shorter people."

Full study, "Short stature is associated with coronary heart disease: a systematic review of the literature and a meta-analysis" and editorial "Is tall beautiful and the heart healthy?": http://eurheartj.oxfordjournals.org/content/current

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