APR 09, 2015 9:56 PM PDT

Genes Are Plied to Link Height, Coronary Heart Disease Risk

WRITTEN BY: Judy O'Rourke
A new study has found that shorter people have a higher risk of coronary heart disease.

Researchers have found that every 2 1/2 inches difference in height impacts one's risk of coronary heart disease by 13.5 percent. In practical terms, someone who's 5 feet tall, would, on average, have a 32 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease compared to someone who's 5 ½ feet tall.

It's been known for more than six decades that there's an inverse relationship between height and risk of coronary heart disease, says Sir Nilesh Samani, MD, British Heart Foundation, professor of cardiology and head of the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences, University of Leicester, UK, who led the research.

"It is not clear whether this relationship is due to confounding factors such as poor socioeconomic environment, or nutrition, during childhood that on the one hand determine achieved height and on the other the risk of coronary heart disease, or whether it represents a primary relationship between shorter height and more coronary heart disease," he says. "Now, using a genetic approach, researchers at the University of Leicester undertaking the study on behalf of an international consortium of scientists (the CADIoGRAM+C4D consortium) have shown that the association between shorter height and higher risk of coronary heart disease is a primary relationship and is not due to confounding factors."

Coronary heart disease occurs when arteries that provide blood to the heart muscle grow narrower when fatty material (plaque) is deposited in the walls of the arteries. This condition is the most common cause of premature death for people around the globe. A heart attack can occur if a blood clot forms over the plaque.

The researchers accessed genetic data through the consortium on nearly 200,000 people with and without coronary heart disease. They studied whether 180 genetic variants that affect height were also associated with coronary heart disease.

"Height has a strong genetic determination and in the last few years a large number of genetic variants have been identified in our DNA that determines one's height," Samani says. "The beauty about DNA is that it cannot be modified by one's lifestyle or socioeconomic conditions. Therefore if shorter height is directly connected with increased risk of coronary heart disease one would expect that these variants would also be associated with coronary heart disease and this is precisely what we found."

Samani says that while we know about lifestyle factors (such as smoking) that affect risk of coronary heart disease, the findings underscore that the causes of this common disease are very complex and other things that we understand much more poorly have a significant impact.

"While our findings do not have any immediate clinical implications, better and fuller understanding of the biological mechanisms that underlie the relationship between shorter height and higher risk of coronary heart disease may open up new ways for its prevention and treatment," he says.

The article, "Genetically Determined Height and Coronary Artery Disease," is published online in the New England Journal of Medicine.

[Source: University of Leicester]
About the Author
  • Judy O'Rourke worked as a newspaper reporter before becoming chief editor of Clinical Lab Products magazine. As a freelance writer today, she is interested in finding the story behind the latest developments in medicine and science, and in learning what lies ahead.
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