Study links women’s middle-age height loss with greater risk of death

Women who experience greater height loss during middle age may be at higher risk of death, investigación sugiere.

Scientists have previously found that shorter people may have an increased risk of heart disease, with researchers saying the two appear to be linked not just by lifestyle but by genes.

Now researchers say height loss in middle age, at least among northern European women, appears to be linked to a greater risk of death, including from cardiovascular disease.

“Height loss is probably not a risk factor per se but is rather a marker for other true causes,” said Dr Sofia Klingberg of the University of Gothenburg, a co-author of the research.

Writing in the journal BMJ Open, researchers report how they analysed data from 2,406 Swedish and Danish women born between 1908 y 1952 who were involved with long-term studies in those countries.

Height measurements were taken at the start of the studies, when the average age of the Swedish and Danish women was 47 y 44 respectivamente, and about 10 a 13 años después. After that point deaths among participants were tracked for a further 17 a 19 años.

En total, 625 participants died during the follow-up period, con 157 of the deaths due to cardiovascular disease and 37 down to stroke. The team also found that overall the women lost an average of 0.8cm in height over 11.4 años.

“People lose height as they get older because of changes in the spine, for example because of reduced height of the discs between the vertebra in the spine,” said Klingberg, adding compression fractures in the spine and changes in posture can result in further height loss.

When the team considered the two groups together, and took into account factors such as age, smoking, and height and weight at the start of the study, they found that each centimetre of height the women lost between the two measurements was associated with a 15% greater risk of death from any cause, while those who lost more than 2cm in height between measurements had a 74% increased risk of death from any cause and at any point in the future.

The team found similar trends when they looked at deaths due to cardiovascular disease, finding a 21% increased risk of death for every centimetre lost, and more than twice the risk of death for those who lost more than 2cm in height. The increased risk of death from stroke associated with height loss was even greater, however the team caution that – as only a small number of participants died from stroke – the figures should be treated with caution.

In a further twist, the team found women who engaged in regular and high-intensity physical activity in their leisure time showed less height loss than those who did four hours or more low-impact exercise a week.

“High physical activity is probably linked to reduced height loss, both through reduced reduction of the age-related bone loss and through increased muscle strength and a more upright posture,” said Klingberg.

Pero, ella añadió, the link between height loss and risk of death remained even once exercise was taken into account.

The research is the latest to suggest a link between height loss and mortality, although results for women have previously been mixed.

Klingberg said keeping tabs on height loss could be beneficial, with a decrease in height potentially prompting a health checkup.

Scott Damrauer, a vascular surgeon and scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, who was not involved in the research, praised the study.

“I think that the most likely explanation is that there is an underlying process that is leading to women losing height that is also contributing to an increased risk of death in those same women," él dijo.

Damrauer said he agreed with the authors that among the possibilities were low bone mineral density and frailty – and their respective causes – adding substantial height loss in individuals should be investigated.

“If you can figure out what is causing their height loss, by addressing that, you might also help their overall health and their overall survival," él dijo.

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