Insulin sensitivity in taller people could explain reduced type 2 diabetes risk, German study claims

Jack Woodfield
Thu, 04 Feb 2016
Insulin sensitivity in taller people could explain reduced type 2 diabetes risk, German study claims
A new study finds that taller people are more sensitive to insulin, which could explain why they have a lower risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD).

German researchers collaborated with the Harvard School of Public Health and Medical School for this new research, published in The Lancet. They explained that previous studies have found taller people are less likely to have CVD and type 2 diabetes, but more likely to have a higher cancer risk.

"Epidemiological data show that per 6.5 cm in height the risk of cardiovascular mortality decreases by six percent, but cancer mortality, by contrast, increases by four percent," said study author Professor Matthias Schulze, German Institute of Human Nutrition in Potsdam.

The researchers highlighted that the height of children and adults has been increasing worldwide, and set about analysing the causes and medical effects of this increase in height.

"Although high BMI and waist circumference, as estimates of total and abdominal fat mass, are now accepted as predictors of the increasing incidence of these diseases, adult height, which also predicts mortality, has been neglected," the authors wrote.

They discovered that height has an important impact upon mortality from certain disease, regardless of body fat mass and other confounding factors.

One of the mechanisms the researchers believe could drive the increase in height is insulin and insulin-like growth factor signalling pathways. "These pathways are thought to be activated by overnutrition, especially increased intake of milk, dairy products, and other animal proteins during different stages of child development," they wrote.

The researchers hypothesise that tall people are more sensitive to insulin and have lower fat content in the liver. According to Professor Norbert Stefan, Department of Internal Medicine IV, this "may explain their lower risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes".

However, the activation of these pathways could also be related to an increased risk of certain cancers, such breast cancer, colon cancer, and melanoma. Researchers have therefore advised physicians to consider growth and adult height more in the prevention of type 2 diabetes, CVD and cancer.

"Limiting overnutrition during pregnancy, early childhood, and puberty would avoid not only obesity, but also accelerated growth in children - and thus might reduce risk of cancer in adulthood," they concluded.
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