THE BLOG

Exploring the Genetic Links Between Height and Coronary Heart Disease

13/04/2015 12:05 BST | Updated 09/06/2015 10:59 BST

New research published last week, which the British Heart Foundation helped to fund, shows that being genetically predisposed to being shorter in height could directly increase your risk of coronary heart disease irrespective of other factors which can stunt growth and impact our health, like the food we eat and the lifestyle we lead.

The figures, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggest for every 2.5 inches (6cm) difference in your height, your risk of coronary heart disease changes by 13.5 per cent.

Researchers have known for some time that there is relationship between height and coronary heart disease risk.

However this is the first piece of science to establish that this genetic link exists regardless of influences from other socioeconomic or environmental factors.

Important scientific discoveries like this can help us understand how our genes can influence our risk of developing heart disease. It seems from this research that some of the genes (and there are many) that determine our height might also influence factors that make us more or less susceptible to heart disease.

It's not being short that causes heart disease, but certain genes cause both shortness and heart disease.

BHF Professor Sir Nilesh Samani at the University of Leicester, who led on this research, is an expert in how the genes we inherit can affect our risk of heart disease. Between 2000 and 2005 Professor Samani collaborated on the BHF Family Heart Study - the largest study of its kind at the time - investigating the genes that cause coronary heart disease.

Further research will hopefully help us gain a fuller understanding of exactly which genes are involved and how they act to cause both short stature and heart disease. For example it could emerge that some of the genes that control our height, also influence risk factors for heart disease such as our cholesterol levels.

Knowing things like this could open up new avenues for prevention and treatment - not by controlling height, which is impossible, but by identifying new ways to control cholesterol levels.

Genetic research like this is not very good at identifying who is most likely to develop heart disease. This is because too many genes are involved. What they are good at is identifying previously unrecognised molecular interactions that might be involved in the development of heart disease.

This knowledge may, in turn, lead to new approaches to the prevention and treatment of heart disease.

Whilst we cannot control how tall we are, there are lots of small but significant steps that everyone, regardless of their height, can take to protect against future heart disease.

By maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, keeping physically active and above all else, not smoking, you can go a long way to reducing your personal risk.