The surprising link between height and risk of dementia

• Men who are taller in young adulthood may have a lower risk of dementia in old age.
• There was around a 10% reduction in the risk of developing dementia for every 6 centimeters of height in people above the average height.
• This could help researchers determine who gets dementia.

How tall you are as a young adult might be an indicator of whether you’ll develop dementia later in life.

A new study found that there’s around a 10% reduction in the risk of developing dementia for every 6 centimeters of height in men above the average, which is 171 centimeters (5’5″) for men globally.

The study, published in eLife, piggybacked on previous studies that found that height may be a risk factor for dementia but didn’t thoroughly explore measures such as genetics, environmental, or other early-life factors.

“We wanted to see if body height in young men is associated with a diagnosis of dementia while exploring whether intelligence test scores, educational level, and underlying environmental and genetic factors shared by brothers explain the relationship,” Terese Sara Høj Jørgensen, assistant professor at the section of social medicine at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, said in a press release.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 666,000 Danish men between 1939 and 1959, including some 70,000 and 7,388 twins, finding that a total of 10,599 men developed dementia later in life.

While researchers said that they didn’t really factor in the potential role of intelligence or education, they found that the relationship between height and dementia did exist when they looked at brothers with different heights. There was also a similar pattern observed in twins, according to researchers.

“A key strength of our study is that it adjusted for the potential role of education and intelligence in young men’s dementia risk, both of which may build up cognitive reserve and make this group less vulnerable to developing dementia,” senior author Merete Osler, professor at the Center for Clinical Research and Prevention at the University of Copenhagen, said. “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.

The key, as always, may lie in early childhood.

“Our analysis of the data concerning brothers confirms these findings, and suggests the association may have common roots in early-life environmental exposures that are not related to family factors shared by brothers,” Osler said.

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