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(Reuters) - Tall men appear less likely than shorter ones to develop heart failure, according to a study covering thousands of U.S. doctors.
Researchers in Boston said that while there is no proof that a few extra centimeters protect the heart, it was possible that short and tall people are different in other ways, including in their diets or diseases growing up, and that this too could affect heart risks.
"This study doesn't say anything definite about whether height, itself, is going to lead to anything," said lead researcher Luc Djousse, of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical Center.
But the researchers, whose findings were published in the American Journal of Cardiology, said it's also possible that something about the biology of taller people, such as the distance between their hearts and certain branches of arteries and blood vessels, could decrease stress on the heart.
Data came from 22,000 male doctors who were followed as part of a large study of heart disease and cancer, starting when they were in their mid-50s, on average.
After responding to an initial questionnaire that asked about their height, weight and health condition, the men filled out follow-up surveys where they reported new medical diagnoses every year.
The report included data from an average 22 years of that follow-up, during which 1,444 men, or about 7 percent, developed heart failure.
The taller men were, the lower their chance of heart failure, the researchers found.
The tallest men in the study, those over 1.8 meter (six feet), were 24 percent less likely to less likely to report a heart failure diagnosis during the study period than men who were 1.72 meters (5 ft 8 in) and shorter.
That was after their age and weight, as well as whether they had high blood pressure and diabetes, had all been taken into account.
Even with those considerations, the study couldn't prove that there wasn't another reason for the findings, said Jeffrey Teuteberg, a cardiologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center who was not involved in the study.
Others agreed, noting that how rich or poor the participants were growing up, and what their nutrition was like during key periods, could also have had an impact on both height and overall heart health.
Djousse said that childhood infections could both stunt growth and ultimately lead to plaque build-up in the arteries and high blood pressure, which are tied to heart failure.
A taller frame might mean that when blood is directed back to the heart at certain points in artery and blood vessel branches, it takes longer to get there or hits the heart during a less-stressful part of its rhythm, Teuteberg said.
"As much as we know about the development of very common diseases like heart failure, there's still a lot we don't know... There's still a lot more that impacts the development of those diseases beyond those things," he said.
He added that height is currently not a big consideration when thinking about heart risks.
"The message certainly shouldn't be: 'If you're tall, don't worry about these sorts of things, or if you're short, you're doomed." SOURCE: bit.ly/xA10ls
Reporting from New York by Genevra Pittman at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies and Jonathan Thatcher