Monday, November 30, 2009

Tall people face ups, downs

There has long been evidence that tall people are favoured in many ways and the links to illness could be a byproduct of that. Just to name one possibility: Tall men tend to be much more successful with the ladies and that could influence a number of lifestyle factors with health consequences. That tallness of itself is in any way unhealthy is not proven

TALL people are more likely to earn the big bucks, but they're also at increased risk of some cancers, research shows. Brisbane geneticist Brian McEvoy said studies had found taller people were more likely to be diagnosed with thyroid, breast, pancreatic and bowel cancers than their vertically challenged colleagues. But he said short people had more chance of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and osteoarthritis.

Dr McEvoy and colleague Peter Visscher, of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, reviewed 70 scientific studies on human height to get the long and short on how stature affects health. Their findings will be published in the December edition of the journal, Economics and Human Biology.

Dr McEvoy said about 50 genes had been linked to height in the past two years, but geneticists believed hundreds, possibly thousands, of genes were involved. Although genes are believed to be responsible for about 80 per cent of the height differences between people, environmental factors – such as diet and disease exposure – are also important. For example, Dr McEvoy said Dutch men were on average 19cm taller today than they were 150 years ago, probably because of improved diets and better health care.

Studies of genes involved in height are already shedding some light on diseases such as cancer and osteoarthritis. One of the first genes to be associated with height, known as HMG2A, has been found to be over-abundant in many types of cancerous tumours while another height-linked gene, GDF5, is believed to be involved in osteoarthritis. "People with lower levels of GDF5 protein tend to have shorter bones and less cartilage, leading to increased wear and tear at their joints and the pain and movement problems that characterise osteoarthritis," Dr McEvoy said. "Plausible genetic routes are beginning to emerge to biologically explain the statistical correlation between height and many health outcomes."

Dr McEvoy said a clear link had also been found between being tall and improved socioeconomic outcomes. "One Australian study found that a 10cm increase in height was associated with a 3 per cent increase in hourly wages," he said. "Why that is, I'm not so sure. One suggestion is that taller people may grow up to be more confident and that comes through in later life. "If you're taller as a child, perhaps you grow up to have a better self-image and that leads to better interpersonal skills and that, perhaps, leads to earning more."

Dr McEvoy said the results were not "predictive of any particular individual".


Nutty Swedes hit on nail beds as cutting-edge cure-all

The famously pain-resistant Vikings might have approved of the latest fad sweeping Sweden. Nail beds are becoming popular with health-conscious consumers convinced that lying on rubber pads embedded with sharp, plastic pins is good for them. Hindu fakirs favour a wooden bed bristling with metal nails, but the spiky foam version does the job nicely, says Catarina Rolfsdotter-Jansson, a 46-year-old yoga instructor and writer who uses one every day and describes it as being “quite painful actually”. “The back looks picked at, as if with a fork”, when a person gets up off the mat. But then “you relax and feel nice again”, she told The New York Times.

Users often claim relief from insomnia, migraines and asthma, while a more zealous group believes that the mat can cure everything from schizophrenia to dandruff. At times these Nordic nail bed devotees seem like a cult: 3,000 of them gathered recently in a Stockholm park, placing their mats in the form of the rays of the sun. They sang mantras and fell asleep.

Not everyone is convinced of the benefits, however. The Svenska Dagbladet newspaper concluded recently that there was “nothing that even approaches a scientific proof for the effects” of the nail bed. In response, the largest manufacturer is organising medically supervised trials to monitor 30 regular users. “We’re doing a clinical test to see what happens in the body,” said Max Hoffmann, who recently gave up a job at Ikea, the furniture giant, to become marketing director for Shakti mats, named after the Hindu fertility goddess. “We’re not looking for what the mat can heal, but what happens to the body — you know, blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature.”

The mats measure 16in by 28in, contain from 4,000 to 8,000 spikes — the fewer the spikes, the more they hurt — and range in price from £30 to £70. Several brands are sold in Stockholm fitness shops and over the internet. Manufacturers are looking forward to a bonanza over Christmas.

One of the pioneers was Susanna Lindelow, of CuraComp, which has made about 100,000 mats in the past year. She discovered nail beds in her quest for relief from severe lower back pain. “I had tried a lot of things,” she said. Nothing worked. As a last resort, she bought a Russian-made nail bed by mail order. She was so impressed with the result that she had a demonstration model made in plastic, then went into production.

Swedes have been buying them since, many in the hope of soothing aches and pains associated with the cyber-generation. “Swedes sit too much in front of the computer, they don’t walk enough, they don’t stretch enough,” said Rolfsdotter-Jansson. “People find this [nail bed] helps.”

Some are waiting for the price to go down before buying their nail bed: it is expected that the market will soon be flooded by cheaper imports from China. One day, no doubt, they will be on offer at Ikea.


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