Standing over average height has its advantages, such as never getting lost in a crowd, reaching things off high shelves, and a lessened risk of heart disease. According to a recent study, taller adults are found to have up to 30 percent less plaque buildup in their coronary arteries, which reduces the risk of coronary heart disease.
As a person ages, the likelihood of developing artery plaque — a sticky, fatty substance — increases as it begins to build up on the interior walls of the arteries, leading to coronary heart disease (CHD). CHD can weaken the heart muscle and lead to heart failure and arrhythmias — irregular heart rate. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute says excessive plaque buildup can also be caused by damaged arterial walls due to unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as a poor diet and smoking. Smoking is known to not only block blood flow in vital arteries but can also clump small pieces of plaque in the heart and brain, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. While a healthy, balanced diet, healthy weight, and being more physically active are recommended to prevent CHD, researchers believe a person’s height can also be considered as a preventative measure.
Published in the journal Circulation, Dr. Michael Miedema, lead author of the paper, research cardiologist at the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, and a team of researchers sought to examine the association between adult height and the prevalence of coronary artery calcium in a large cohort. Data obtained from the NHLBI Family (a multicenter, genetic-epidemiologic family study of the genetic/non-genetic and familial/non-familial causes and risk factors of coronary heart disease), involved over 2,700 participants who underwent cardiac computed tomography. The average age of the participants was 55 years old, with females making up 61 percent of the sample size in the study.
Generalized estimating equations were used to calculate the prevalence of coronary artery calcium (CAC) — specks of calcium in the walls of the coronary arteries — across sex-specific height measurements. After adjusting for age, race, field center, waist circumference, smoking, alcohol, physical activity, systolic blood pressure, anti-hypertensive medications, diabetes, diabetic medications, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, lipid-lowering medications, and income, the researchers found the participants who belonged in the tallest quartile had 30 percent lower odds of having CAC, or plaque buildup in their coronary arteries. Therefore, the taller the adult, the more likely they are to have lower levels of plaque, lessening their risk for CHD. This relationship was consistent in both men and women. However, there was no evidence of effect modification for the association between adult height and CAC by age or socioeconomic status.
“The results of our study suggest an inverse, independent association between adult height and CAC,” concluded the researchers, according to the press release.
Although the reasoning behind why taller individuals develop less plaque than their counterparts still remains unclear, the researchers point to childhood nutrition and other environmental factors during childhood that may have been determinants of both adult height as well as future coronary heart disease.
“Some studies suggest that taller people have favorable changes in their blood pressure due their height but these changes are quite small and unlikely to be the sole cause of this relationship,” Dr. Miedema said in the press release.
In a similar study published in the American Journal of Cardiology, researchers found men who were more than 6 feet tall were a quarter less likely to suffer from heart failure than men just a few inches shorter, even after age and weight, high blood pressure and diabetes, were taken into account. The researchers attributed this finding to the possibility that the biology of taller men may put them at less risk. In the physique of a taller man, there is greater distance between certain points in their arteries and their hearts which puts the heart under less strain.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says heart disease remains in the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., resulting in one in every four deaths every year. Americans at risk for heart disease include those who have high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and those who smoke.
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Source: Arnett DK, Carr J, Djousse L, et al. Adult Height and Prevalence of Coronary Artery Calcium: The NHLBI Family Heart Study. Circulation. 2013.