After looking at the genetic variants of 200,000 men and women from around the world, researchers found that for every 2.5 inches of increased height there is a 13.5 percent risk reduction of heart disease. This means the shorter you are, the higher risk of heart disease you have.
Previously, researchers have seen a direct relationship between height and heart disease, but some thought this might be due to other environmental factors, such as poor nutrition, disease, etc. However, the study found that a large group of genes already known to be associated with height were also associated with one’s risk of heart disease. This confirms that besides environment, there is also a genetic link between heart disease and height.
“There are tons and tons of information about the genetics of heart disease that we don’t understand yet,” says Brent Muhlestein, MD, cardiologist and heart researcher at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute. “It’s very complicated, but the fact that we’re getting somewhere is great.”
So do these findings mean tall people shouldn’t worry about their heart health? Definitely not, says Dr. Muhlestein.
“There are a lot of other risk factors that are not related to height that tall people need to worry about,” says Dr. Muhlestein. “While they may be better off than shorter people, that doesn’t mean they don’t have to watch their health.”
For those on the shorter side, Dr. Muhlestein says there is still a lot you can do to improve your heart health.
“Shorter people have lots of things they can work on,” says Dr. Muhlestein. “They can make sure they’re fit, don’t smoke, not overweight, that their cholesterol is well treated and that their diabetes is in control. All those things have a huge effect on your overall health.”
The study also found that the genes associated with short height were also linked to higher levels of cholesterol and fats found in a person’s bloodstream. Researchers believe some of the height genes may also be controlling both growth and blood vessel development.
“These findings demonstrate not only an interesting correlation between height and heart disease, but they also show us where we are going with genetics,” says Dr. Muhlestein. “ This is a study we should pay attention to because it shows where we are going in regards to personalized medicine and figuring out what our genes do and predict about us.”