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Is height important? It can be when riding a roller coaster or trying out for the school’s volleyball team. Generally, however, height doesn’t have a significant impact on people’s daily lives. But a new study done by researchers at the University of Leicester may just change that perception.

According to their findings, height is correlated with a decreased risk of coronary artery disease (CAD). Although scientists had first discovered this link in as early as the 1950s, it was not until now that more information had been uncovered about the causes of this phenomenon.

Height may be correlated to decreased risk of CAD.

Image Source: Peter Macdiarmid

CAD, unfortunately, is currently the leading cause of death in the US. It occurs as a result of plaque buildup in coronary arteries, which deliver blood to the heart; if left untreated, it can result in a myocardial infarction, commonly known as a heart attack.

Past speculations regarding the relationship between height and the risk of CAD exist. One hypothesis was that shorter people had smaller arteries, which are easier to clog. Another idea was that a lack of nutrients caused individuals to be smaller in stature, so the increased risk of CAD was a side effect of that same condition. This new study revealed more information and found a definitive link between height and CAD risk; however, much is still shrouded in mystery.

 

According to Nilesh Samani, a cardiologist at the University of Leicester, “Developmental processes are going on that probably have an influence on height, and they probably also have an influence on [blood vessels of the heart] in a way that predisposes you to getting coronary artery disease.” He seems to believe that there is an obscure process behind both of these occurrences.

Height may correlate with risk of CAD because developmental processes that affect height also affect development of blood vessels of the heart.

Image Source: Peter Dazeley.

In this study, his team studied 180 different spots in the human genome that were related to height, hoping to find some link to heart disease in the DNA. They found some interesting information; apparently, for someone 2.5 inches shorter than average (5’10” for white males), the risk for heart disease is 13.5% higher. Also, it seemed as if there were a more significant link present in men than women, for whom the correlation is almost nonexistent.

However, only about a third of the reason behind this phenomenon can be explained, even with these findings. Furthermore, while the overall risk for CAD isn’t huge for shorter people compared to those who smoke, for example, Samani still believes that this research can pave the way to important treatments.

Currently, Samani and his team are working on broadening the study to include ethnic groups other than Caucasians in the hopes of discovering the genetic link underlying this correlation.

Feature Image Source: Yale Rosen

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