9 Fascinating Facts About Height and Disease Risk

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An interesting study was just released in the June 2022 issue of PLOS Genetics and it has to do with height. Researchers evaluated more than 300,000 people in the United States to see if their height had any correlation with medical problems. 

What’s fascinating is that stature isn’t something that comes to anyone’s mind when thinking about risk factors. When someone is ill, the typical risk factors evaluated are your environmental exposures, as well as where you live, the kind of food you eat as well as weight… GENETICS, your family history of disorders and toxic exposures. But how tall you are never comes to mind. It seems like such an implausible claim!

For background, keep in mind the average height of a man is 5’9” and a woman is 5’4” so anything above that is considered “tall.” As it pertains to the study, the mean height of all participants was 176 cm (equivalent to 5 foot 6). 

Keep this in mind as you continue to learn how being tall impacts disease risk. The challenge is that height is obviously not modifiable. Other risk factors are easily modifiable but again, being short, average in height or towering is not something you can change!According to the new (and massive) study, tall people may have reduced heart disease risk. In other words, the results of the new analysis match some other studies which have also suggested that taller people have reduced risk for hypertension, coronary heart disease, and high cholesterol. Again, similar findings have been REPORTED before. While I’m thinking about it, I’d like to share a link to an article I’ve written before on DENTAL HEALTH and heart disease.  

Scientists aren’t sure exactly why, but if you’re below 5’3”, you are 50 percent more likely to develop coronary heart disease than someone 5 feet 8 inches or more. The reason is unclear. If heart disease is something you worry about, read my other article, How Grape Juice Helps Shortness of Breath and Heart Disease.

Furthermore, the new STUDY provides more data regarding other problems. They (taller people) seem to have a higher risk for atrial fibrillation, varicose veins in their legs, and nerve pain (neuropathy). They have more skin and bone infections too. Contrary to what you might think considering gravity, blood flow to the brain seems to be more efficient in taller people as evidenced by the fact that they’re less likely to get a stroke (all other risk factors being equal).

Speaking of blood flow to the brain…memory is absolutely impacted by your height. We know this, but we don’t know why! We’re seeing more and more Alzheimer’s today as the population ages. One trial examining about 500 people found that men who are about 6 feet tall are almost 60 percent less likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s compared to those shorter than 5 foot 7. The same benefit holds true for taller women, however the correlation is not as tight. So being taller protects memory for some reason.

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As for blood clots, research suggest that if you’re 5 feet or shorter, you enjoy the lowest odds of forming a blood clot. 

In taller women (but not men), asthma was more prevalent. No one is really sure how physical height can functionally change disease risk.

Height: What about people of shorter stature?

Research currently shows that someone below average height has a slightly lower risk of getting cancer. There was a European study of 100,000 women that showed shorter women were significantly likely to develop ovarian cancer. In men, the risk of having prostate cancer is lower if you’re below average height. It’s not yet possible to fully explain this, however, growth hormone levels play a role in the development of cancer.

Diabetes is epidemic in the USA and it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that tall people are less likely to get diabetes. It appears that leg length may have something to do with getting type 2 diabetes, at least according to a 5 year analysis of 6,000 people. 

The information presented today is based on numerous studies and meta-analyses, so what I’m saying is not carved-in-stone. In other words, if you’re 6 foot 5 (or you are 5 foot 1), you should not assume you’re immune to any disease, because so many variables are involved in the development of a serious, chronic illness. 

And even as I shared earlier with you how taller people appear to have lower heart disease risk, I need to also tell you that there are studies to show the opposite! The data is not  In 2013, an ARTICLE published in Indian Heart Journal found that shorter height protects you from heart attack and coronary heart disease. This conclusion conflicts with the massive PLOS Genetics study so nothing is set in stone.

I’m not making any blanket statements about the results of this massive study, because we are all individuals with unique metabolism and physiology. I just find it so engrossing how height is becoming a better known, albeit non-modifiable, risk factor for disease development. 

Why Height Matters

What are the possible reasons for these odd correlations regarding height and health? This is an almost impossible question to answer but I will list 10 factors that contribute, then let you draw your own conclusions:

1. People of shorter stature (like me!) supposedly have reduced telomere shortening —> that’s a good thing and has to do with longevity

2. Unlike tall people, average and shorter people often have better heart pumping capabilities

3. Income status because it translates to nutritional status, and/or living conditions status

4. Childhood illness or exposures

5. Environmental exposure (ie asbestos, radiation, pollution)

6. Amount of exercise and other lifestyle choices

7. Type of diet (ie plant based, carnivore, processed) Read this article please, 9 Strategies to Stop Sugar Cravings

8. Genetics and family history of illness

9. History of infectious organisms (ie exposure to tuberculosis, tick bite associated Lyme disease, mononucleosis, C*V1D – !9, chicken pox, polio, etc)
(I have another article you might be interested in, If You Think Lyme is Bad, Meet Babesia).

10. Mental health status because emotional distress, depression and anxiety have been noted as definite risk factors for many diseases, including heart disease

Let’s Summarize Why Height Could Play a Role

Even though studies conflict, it appears that collectively speaking, shorter people live longer in general. So when you think in terms of longevity, you have to think that growing faster and being bigger or taller may mean that you have fewer years on Earth… at least according to rodent studies.

Taller people are more prone to injuries, I can vouch for that one because my husband Sam is 6’5” and sometimes we chuckle because he’ll bump into a wall while turning a corner, or almost trip (he says it’s hard to see the ground from that high up, lol!) and sometimes  hits his head if he’s in a house and gets up from a table where the chandelier is hanging too low… and more!

The injuries in taller people are usually worse compared to shorter people. It seems they are more clumsy. When a tall person takes a fall, it’s a longer way down! Their reaction time may not be as fast as someone shorter and agile. Hip replacement rates are higher in taller people. Athletes who are tall also suffer more injuries and take a longer time to heal. While investigators continue to tease out our destiny based upon height, I suggest we all just focus on the modifiable factors that improve health.

I don’t think you should worry about height as a risk factor for anything! The truth is this is really an artifact of life, one that you can’t even alter, and one that certainly doesn’t forecast your treatment outcomes or your lifespan. Since studies do not even concur, I’d say to just take it with a grain of salt. We as a population have much more worrisome issues to fester upon, than to worry about than how tall we are!