COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Having some extra height at a young age may do more than just help out on the basketball court. A new study finds that men who are taller than average in early adulthood also enjoy a lowered risk of developing dementia later in life.
Previous research has shown that height may be a risk factor for dementia, but the studies weren’t able to account for genetic, environmental, and other early-life factors that may influence one’s height and or risk of developing dementia. These latest findings shed new light on the subject thanks to researchers from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, in association with the non-profit science organization eLife.
“We wanted to see if body height in young men is associated with diagnosis of dementia, while exploring whether intelligence test scores, educational level, and underlying environmental and genetic factors shared by brothers explain the relationship,” says lead author Terese Sara Høj Jørgensen, an assistant professor in the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Public Health, in a media release.
Jørgensen and her team analyzed data from 666,333 Danish men born between 1939 and 1959. This cohort included 70,608 brothers and 7,388 twins. They found that 10,599 men from the sample developed dementia as they aged.
The researchers then performed an adjusted analysis of the group and found the risk of dementia dropped by 10% for every six centimeters of height beyond the average. The potential role of intelligence or education on one’s risk of dementia was also considered, but only resulted in marginal relationship adjustments.
One result the researchers found very interesting was that the relationship between height and dementia existed even when brothers of different heights were examined, suggesting that genetics alone don’t explain why shorter men tend to develop dementia more often than taller men. This was true even regarding twins.
The researchers call the brain’s ability to improvise and solve problems “cognitive reserve.” They say that, after adjusting for education and intelligence, it is unlikely that the association between height and dementia is merely related to cognitive reserve. They theorize that the link between height and dementia could have beginnings in early-life environmental factors unrelated to genetic or family factors shared by siblings.
“Together, our results point to an association between taller body height in young men and a lower risk of dementia diagnosis later in life, which persists even when adjusted for educational level and intelligence test scores,” says Merete Osler, senior author of the study.
The study is published in bioRXiv.