The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

DNA study reveals that the shorter you are the more at risk you are for heart disease

A heart monitor showing the beats of the heart and blood pressure. (Photodisc)

As if being small in stature weren't already enough of an issue in today's world obsessed with seven-foot-tall basketball stars and leggy models, now scientists have found that your height appears to be inversely correlated with your risk of heart disease thanks to your genes.

In a study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers looked at 180 genetic variants in 200,000 people with and without heart disease. The researchers -- led by Nilesh Samani, a professor of cardiology at the University of Leicester -- found that for every 2.5 inches of height that you are shorter than someone else, your risk of clogged arteries is 13.5 percent greater.

The idea that a person's risk of heart disease -- the leading killer worldwide -- is linked to height has been known for more than 60 years, but scientists had wondered whether poverty, poor nutrition and other environmental factors may be the reason for the link. In 1993, for instance, scientists looked at height and risk of coronary heart disease in 22,071 male physicians and found that the shortest were more likely to suffer a heart attack, stroke and death from cardiovascular disease.

The study in the New England Journal of Medicine is the first study to show the key role genetics plays and the first to quantify the effect.

The researchers looked at two different pools of DNA, one collected for a genetics of height study and another from a genetics of heart disease study and identified pathways where the genes that control height may also influence heart disease.

The effect was clear-cut in men, but less so in women. The researchers wrote that it's unclear whether this represents a genuine difference in the effect of genes and height and heart disease between men and women or whether this is due to the study's smaller sample size for women. Previous studies have been more clear in their conclusions that women's height also affects their risk for heart disease.

The relationship between height and heart health can also go in the opposite direction. A study published in 2014 found that atrial fibrillation has been observed to be more common in taller individuals.

Height has been associated with higher risk or incidence of other diseases and even longevity.

Geoffrey Kabat, an epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, looked at data from nearly 145,000 people from the Women's Health Initiative study and found a relationship between height and cancer when controlling for socioeconomic status, body weight, BMI and other factors.  For about every 4 inches of height, a woman's overall cancer risk was higher by 1.13 times, according to a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention.

And in a study in 2012, researchers looked at the ultimate question of whether your height is linked with how long you live. Thomas Samaras, writing in the journal Biodemography and Social Biology, studied male Sardinian soldiers and found that those shorter than 5 feet 4 inches lived two years longer than those who were taller. He has found similar associations in Veterans Administration data in the United States.

More from The Washington Post:

If your doctor sees calcium, he knows you have heart disease

When can you resume having sex after a heart attack?