Being tall has its drawbacks... it can affect your health
Health and beauty

Being tall has its drawbacks... it can affect your health

Taller people are at greater risk of certain infections and nerve pain in their hands and feet

Fermin Apezteguia


Friday, 22 March 2024, 15:50


Parents always seem to worry about their children's height. Probably because we live in a world where, to be successful in life, it would seem that one has to be of a certain size. Still, it is not all sunshine and roses for the tallest among us. The risk of acquiring a sizeable number of diseases is directly related to your height.

Those who tower over others of average height are actually at greater risk of suffering from certain skin and bone infections, including a troublesome condition called peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage in hands and feet).

The height connection was flagged in a study carried out by the Rocky Mountain Medical Center in the USA and published recently in the journal PLOS Genetics.

Height has been a factor that has previously been associated with a number of common ailments, according to outpatient clinician Agustín Martínez Berriochoa, president of the Society of Internal Medicine for Aragón, Navarra, La Rioja and the Basque Country (SOMIVRAN), but that specific link has never been made very clear.

A detailed study

To help explore this hypothesis, the US research team set out to look at each ailment in turn and any possible connection with each data subject's actual height. They also analysed the genetic make-up of each individual participating in the study.

In order to shed as much light as possible on their investigations, the team decided to use a very broad population as its sample group. To do this, they drew from the Million Veteran Program (MVP), a national database in the USA storing information on genes, lifestyles and conditions to which military personnel have been exposed and the ways in which that can affect their health, for better or worse.

The database is the largest in the world on health and genetics. It was launched in 2011 and, since then, more than 870,000 veterans have agreed to have their data added.

The scientists used data from 250,000 men and women, one in five of them being African-American. In the United States, studies usually make this distinction in case results arise that require some differentiation in the recommendations to be made.

Less chance of a heart attack

So, what did they find out? Firstly, the benefits: taller people have a lower risk of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

However, the list of downsides is longer. It has long been known that tall people have a higher risk of varicose veins. Also, they are more prone to atrial fibrillation - an irregular and often faster heart rhythm - not such great news.

The American study completes this list of ailments besetting taller people with a few more nasties, one being that they are more prone to infections of the skin and bones, especially ulcers in the legs and feet.

Worst of all, they are the most likely to suffer from peripheral neuropathy. What is that? Peripheral nerves are all those nerves located beyond the brain and spinal cord. Pain in the nerves of the hands and feet typically manifests itself as tingling and stinging, usually worsening to a stabbing pain. Such pain can be very disabling. It's not always great to be tall.

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