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On Being Tall - A Mixed Blessing for Health/Longevity

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There is a really interesting new meta-analysis [1] in this week's issue of The Lancet on the association between height and health/longevity. Here is a popular press article on the study, with the title Big And Tall: Nutritious Meals May Make Us Taller But They Could Also Increase Our Cancer Risk.


The researchers looked at 121 epidemiological studies of over a million people that assessed the association of height with health and lifespan. The heart of the paper are these two graphs:




showing how in both men and women, being taller reduces risk of coronary heart disease, but increases risk of cancer. Here is a graphical representation of the over/undernutrition-based mechanisms the authors postulate to explain the observations:




The link to cancer via higher insulin in people who eat a lot (and hence grow taller) is familiar. What was a bit surprising was their suggestion that increased levels of grow factors like IGF-1 in taller people may actually improve insulin sensitivity and hence reduce diabetes and cardiovascular disease. 






[1] The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology Available online 28 January 2016


Divergent associations of height with cardiometabolic disease and cancer: epidemiology, pathophysiology, and global implications

Norbert Stefan, MD, Hans-Ulrich Häring, MD, Frank B Hu, MD, Dr Matthias B Schulze, DrPHcorrespondenceemail
Among chronic non-communicable diseases, cardiometabolic diseases and cancer are the most important causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Although high BMI and waist circumference, as estimates of total and abdominal fat mass, are now accepted as predictors of the increasing incidence of these diseases, adult height, which also predicts mortality, has been neglected. Interestingly, increasing evidence suggests that height is associated with lower cardiometabolic risk, but higher cancer risk, associations supported by mendelian randomisation studies. Understanding the complex epidemiology, biology, and pathophysiology related to height, and its association with cardiometabolic diseases and cancer, is becoming even more important because average adult height has increased substantially in many countries during recent generations. Among the mechanisms driving the increase in height and linking height with cardiometabolic diseases and cancer are insulin and insulin-like growth factor signalling pathways. These pathways are thought to be activated by overnutrition, especially increased intake of milk, dairy products, and other animal proteins during different stages of child development. Limiting overnutrition during pregnancy, early childhood, and puberty would avoid not only obesity, but also accelerated growth in children—and thus might reduce risk of cancer in adulthood.
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The mixed blessing is very interesting.  However, I still think it's best to be short.  The reason I say that is heart disease is really a matter of lifestyle. It's easy to avoid heart disease with a plant-based diet and exercise.  It's harder to avoid cancer, though lifestyle will still make a massive difference.   I always like to refer to figure #1 in this study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2515569/ 


I'll be curious to see how my own life plays out.  I'm 5"11 (31 years old) and had my IGF-1 levels tested about 6 months ago, and they were ~280.  WAY higher than I expected being that I've been on a 99% plant based diet for almost 5 years.  I might have screwed up the results though by having an uncharacteristic date (as in the dried fruit - haha) binge the night before.  I've heard high glucose messes up the results, but nonetheless my fasting glucose taken at the same time was about 79-81. So maybe that didn't matter as my glucose was fine at the time - or maybe it did. 


Many centenarians seem short. But maybe they've just lost their height over the years.

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  • 1 month later...
Guest thomas samaras

Heart disease is not inherently related to shorter height. There are other reasons for the findings that

short people have more coronary heart disease.These include diet, overweight, childhood health problems that also stunt growth, catch-up growth for low birth weight infants, socioeconomic factors, and smoking.

Actually, if one has a healthful diet and environment, the shorter person has inherently lower risk of

heart disease. The reasons include: lower blood pressure, lower left ventricular mass, lower homocysteine, lower C-reactive protein, and lower pulse wave velocity. Of course, this assumes were are comparing short

and tall people of similar body proportions and lifestyle.


Of course females are smaller than men and have lower CHD. Small dogs have much lower risk of death from heart failure compared to bigger dogs. For example, a miniature dachshund has 1/60 risk of heart failure as a great Dane. In addition, during the mid 20C, studies found that many populations that were free of CHD and stroke were short. These included Solomon Islanders, people of Papua New Guinea, Kalahari indians and

Congo pygmies.


A paper appeared in the Indian Heart Journal that reviewed the data from various parts of the world and

concluded that shorter people are at lower risk for CHD...

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