Being tall can harm your sex life: But it may help your heart and your hearing

PUBLISHED: 23:13 GMT, 11 May 2015 | UPDATED: 08:06 GMT, 12 May 2015

  • Study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found shorter men have more sex
  • Research suggests tall people are less likely to develop heart disease than short people
  • Height may also be linked to our emotional state and taller people are happier

Being tall may come with practical problems, such as the lack of legroom on aeroplanes, but there are some perks, too. Last month, researchers at Ohio State University reported that tall people are, on average, cleverer and have better social skills. They said this could explain why studies in the past have found that tall people tend to earn more — as much as an extra £100,000 over a 30-year career. That study followed research showing tall people are less likely to develop heart disease than short people. In fact height is now attracting a great deal of attention as a predictor of future health, affecting your risk of a range of diseases, from dementia to stroke. But tallest isn't always healthiest . . .


A number of studies suggest that height is linked to the risk of developing dementia. Perhaps the strongest evidence for this came from a study published last November in the British Journal of Psychiatry, which analysed data from 18 studies. The team found that men under 5ft 6in (167cm) had a 36 per cent higher risk of dementia than men over 5ft 10in (177cm). That doesn't mean being short causes dementia. Shorter height can be associated with certain pressures in early life, such as stress, illness or poor nutrition, which may predispose someone to dementia, says lead author Dr Tom Russ, lecturer in old age psychiatry at the University of Edinburgh.

He says early life stresses may affect a person's cognitive reserve — the brain's resistance to age-related damage. 'People think of dementia as a disease of old age, but this suggests you are accumulating risk factors throughout the course of your life.' But remember, the overall risk of dementia is low — about one in 20 over-65s are affected — so these increases in risk are relatively small.


When it comes to heart health, the news for shorter people may not be great, either. It seems they may also be more prone to heart disease, according to research published last month by the University of Leicester. The researchers found a 5ft (153cm) tall person had a 32 per cent higher risk of heart disease than someone who is 5ft 6in (167cm). This association isn't new. Analysis of data from more than a million people, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology in 2012, found clear links between shortness and higher risk of dying from heart disease, stroke and heart failure. The latest research suggests the link is down to genes, rather than environmental factors such as diet. The team looked at 180 genetic variants that are known to control height, and found that those variants linked with shorter stature also had an effect on cholesterol, fat levels and overall heart disease risk. Another theory is that taller people have larger coronary vessels, 'which take longer to become blocked by fatty deposits', according to David Wormser, the epidemiologist who led the 2012 study. Height appears to be linked to our emotional state


It's not all good news if you're tall, however. In 2013, Dr Geoffrey Kabat, an epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the U.S., published research on post-menopausal women which found that for every additional 10cm of height, the risk of developing any cancer rose by 17 per cent. So compared with a woman of 5ft 5in, a woman of 5ft 9in would be that much more at risk said the researchers. The strongest associations between height and cancer were for melanoma (skin cancer), colon, uterus, kidney and thyroid. In another study in men, Dr Kabat found the risk of cancer rose by 5 per cent for every extra 10cm of height. Why would this be? Cancers are caused by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells, and so factors that are associated with increased growth in childhood and adolescence may also affect the risk of cancer, he says. One theory is that tall people may have higher levels of a protein called insulin-like growth factor, or IGF, which is released in response to growth hormones and also seems to be linked to cancer. Another explanation is that taller people naturally have more cells overall because their organs are bigger. So the chance of one of these cells mutating is higher, says Dr Kabat. However, he stresses that the risks from height are small, and certainly lower than those of smoking, drinking too much and sun exposure. For example, being a smoker raises your risk of developing lung cancer by 2,000 per cent compared with someone who never smoked.


A 2006 study in the U.S. comparing the heights of new mothers found that those who had twins or triplets were, on average, an inch taller than the national average. Dr Gary Steinman, an obstetrician at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, who led the research, said it may be down to IGF. He says one of its effects is to make the ovaries more sensitive to the follicle-stimulating hormone that triggers the ovaries to produce eggs. Heightened sensitivity to the hormone raises the chance of two eggs being produced per cycle, and, in turn, the chance of a multiple pregnancy. Previous studies have shown that shorter people have lower levels of IGF.

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