According to a major genetic study, a person’s height can impact their chances of developing a number of common diseases in adulthood. Significant findings include a relationship between height and an increased risk of peripheral neuropathy and circulatory problems as well as a relationship between height and a decreased risk of coronary heart disease. The results appeared in the June 2, 2022 issue of the journal PLOS Genetics.
Dr. Sridharan Raghavan of the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System, who led the study, described the findings as “a significant contribution to understanding the relationship between height and clinical conditions from an epidemiological perspective.” More research is needed before the results lead to changes in clinical care, Raghavan says. However, the results highlight the association between height and clinical conditions that impact veterans’ lives, he explains. “The broad scope of our study has produced a catalog of clinical conditions associated with genetically predicted height. In other words, these are conditions for which height could be a risk factor or a protective factor, independent of other environmental conditions that could also impact height and health.” Height is not often considered a risk factor for disease. However, previous studies have found associations between a person’s height and their propensity to develop a number of health problems. Whether this link has a biological basis or is caused by other factors is not fully understood.
Part of a person’s adult height is determined by the genes they received from their parents. However, environmental aspects such as diet, socioeconomic status, and demographics (such as age or gender) also impact final height. This is why it can be difficult to find a link between height and the risk of contracting a disease. To explore this link, VA researchers examined the genetic and medical data of more than 280,000 MVP-enrolled veterans. They compared this data to a list of 3,290 height-associated genetic variants from a recent genome scan.
They found that risk levels for 127 different medical conditions may be linked to genetically predicted height in white patients. As black patients are less well represented in genetic studies, less data is available on this population. But in this analysis, medical traits associated with height were generally consistent in black and white patients. About 21% of veterans in the MVP study were black. At least 48 of the links identified in white patients were also true for black patients. According to the researchers, all of the most important findings – height is linked to a lower risk of coronary heart disease and a higher risk of atrial fibrillation, peripheral neuropathy and circulatory disorders – were found in black and white participants. . Overall, genetically predicted height was linked to both lower and higher disease risk, depending on the condition. Being tall seems to protect people from cardiovascular problems. The study linked being taller to a lower risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and coronary heart disease. But the risk of atrial fibrillation was higher in taller participants. These connections have already been demonstrated in previous research.
On the other hand, the majority of non-cardiovascular diseases taken into account in the study could be more likely in tall people. This was especially true for circulation conditions that affected the veins and peripheral neuropathy. Damage to nerves outside the brain and spinal cord, especially in the limbs, is known as peripheral neuropathy. Height has been linked to poor neural conduction and nerve problems in past research. By using genetic tools to suggest a higher risk of nerve problems in tall people, the MVP study validates this link.
Researchers have linked genetically predicted height to conditions such as neuropathy-related urinary retention and erectile dysfunction. Raghavan called the findings on peripheral neuropathy “particularly exciting.” He discussed this finding with fellow clinicians who often see patients with peripheral neuropathy. Raghavan’s colleagues confirmed that tall people often have the worst neuropathy, but they were unaware of other studies describing this association.
Conditions such as cellulitis, skin abscesses, chronic leg ulcers and osteomyelitis were also linked to height. Being tall also appears to increase the risk of circulatory disorders such as varicose veins and thrombosis – blood clots in the veins. Height can also increase the risk of other conditions unrelated to neuropathy or circulation. Toe and foot deformities, conditions that could be caused by increased weight in tall people, were more common in people whose genetics predicted they would be tall.
The study also showed that height increases the risk of asthma and nonspecific nerve disorders in women but not in men. Taken together, the results suggest that height may be an unrecognized but biologically important and immutable risk factor for several common conditions, especially those that affect the extremities, the researchers said. Considering a person’s height can be helpful when assessing risk and monitoring disease, they say.
More work is needed before this research can be translated into clinical care, Raghavan says. “I think our results are the first step toward disease risk assessment in that we identify conditions for which height might really be a risk factor,” he explains. “Future work should assess whether integrating height into disease risk assessments can inform strategies to modify other risk factors for specific conditions.” Future work will also focus on potential mechanisms that link height to these health conditions.
Researchers from multiple VA health care centers participated in the study, including, but not limited to, Dr. Tim Assimes of the VA Palo Alto Health Care System; Dr. Yan Sun of Atlanta VA Medical Center; and Dr. Chris O’Donnell, one of the national MVP leaders, previously with the VA Boston Healthcare System and now with Novartis. MVP is a national research program aimed at discovering how genes, lifestyle, and military exposures affect health and disease. Since its launch in 2011, more than 8,85,000 veterans have joined MVP, making it one of the largest genetics and health programs in the world.
Raghavan explains that studies like this would not be possible without MVP. “MVP is extremely important for these types of studies,” he said. “By linking clinical data to genetic data, we can study clinical outcomes that are not commonly collected in other types of observational cohort data. For example, some of the strongest associations in our study – with the peripheral neuropathy, venous insufficiency, osteomyelitis and foot ulcers – would not be collected routinely in many other data including genetics.This link is useful for research and for translating research findings into clinical care. Beyond its number of participants, MVP also enables research that was previously impossible due to the participation of veterans from many different groups across the country.”The other important contribution of MVP is its diversity,” Raghavan explained. “While the majority of attendees are white, there are a large number of black and Hispanic attendees, who have been underrepresented da ns genetic studies in the past.” (ANI)
(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
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