Growth increases the risk of certain diseases

A person’s large or small height increases the risk of certain diseases. Photo: Marcel Kusch / dpa

A person’s large or small height increases the risk of certain diseases. American scientists report this in the journal PLOS Genetics.

The role is played not only by genes, but also by socio-economic factors, and above all by the environment, as the German expert emphasizes.

People are getting taller: while the average height of Germans was a good 1.67 meters in 1896, it was almost 1.80 meters in 2017. In the case of women, the value increased over the same period from 1.56 to 1.66 meters, which can be observed almost all over the world.

Increased risk of type 2 diabetes

At the same time, the relationship between body size and certain diseases is becoming increasingly clear. A 2019 German study found that short people had an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, while a 2017 Swedish analysis found a higher risk of thrombosis in tall people. Meta-analyzes show that they are slightly more likely to develop cancer.

However, it is not clear whether body size alone represents the actual risk or whether there are factors that influence it. A team led by physician Sridharan Raghavan of the University of Colorado has now investigated the links between various diseases and actual growth and growth predicted by their genetics.

atrial fibrillation and varicose veins

Using a database of genetic and health information, the team analyzed information on more than 250,000 adults for more than 1,000 diseases and traits. The analysis confirms that tall people have a greater risk of atrial fibrillation and varicose veins, and a lower risk of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

The study also found new links: Accordingly, tall people have an increased risk of peripheral neuropathy, which is caused by nerve damage in the extremities and skin and bone infections such as leg and foot ulcers. Overall, there is evidence that adult height can affect more than a hundred clinical features, Raghavan said in a statement. Among them are several diseases that are associated with a shorter life expectancy and a poorer quality of life. However, further research must confirm that height is a risk factor for several common diseases in adults.

For Norbert Stefan, professor of clinical-experimental diabetology at the University Hospital of Tübingen, the result is no surprise: it has been known for years that many genes determine how tall or short a person becomes. However, it is these genes that are linked not only to body size, but also to other body processes, and are therefore directly or indirectly related to certain disease risks.

Consider socioeconomic factors

“But genetics should not be overestimated,” emphasizes the doctor, and socio-economic factors can also play a role: according to studies, tall people often have a higher social status. This goes hand in hand with the fact that they are less affected by some common diseases.

Environmental factors would likely have an even greater impact, says Stefan, referring to China, where body size has been increasing over the years: “One of the reasons is that people there are consuming more and more dairy and whey products that contain IGF-1 and the genes IGF- 2 are already activated in the uterus. » These genes will drive body growth and will remain active for life when activated. IGF-1 promotes cell growth, which explains the increased risk of certain types of cancer in tall people.

However, a stronger activation of IGF-1 also ensures better fat burning in the organs. Therefore, fatty liver is less common in tall people, says Stefan, citing his own research. At the same time, since they have more leverage due to longer limbs and thus burn more energy with each movement, the risk of type 2 diabetes and a heart attack is lower.

Long haul flights and long car journeys

However, long limbs are also long veins in the legs – blood has to be pumped longer paths to the heart, which increases the risk of thrombosis. Accordingly, especially tall people should exercise regularly on long-haul flights or long car journeys, drink enough and wear compression stockings on the plane.

In turn, in small people the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart attack is higher – regardless of the mass of adipose tissue: “If these people gain weight, their risk is much higher than in tall people who are getting fat,” emphasizes the diabetologist: “Im the smaller, the more agile you should be ”.

Body size is a very underrated topic in everyday clinical practice that deserves more attention, says Stefan: “That’s why work like the present study is so important.” While such publications already exist, in practice, the medical conclusion is seldom drawn from body size: “But as people are getting bigger, this is a problem because these connections will continue to grow in importance.”

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